SYDNEY - Manly are into their fourth grand final in seven years as South Sydney stumbled at the penultimate hurdle for the second straight year with a heartbreaking 30-20 NRL preliminary final loss to the Sea Eagles at ANZ Stadium.
Seeking to end a 42-year wait to reach the decider, the Rabbitohs stumbled when the grand final berth seemed theirs for the taking — a 14-0 lead at better than a point a minute the perfect start.
But somehow it slipped through their fingers to a Manly side building one of the NRL's great dynasties.
They piled on 30 straight points to silence the Souths faithful who made up the majority of the 44,546 crowd.
It capped a devastating day for Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire, whose mother passed away earlier in the day after a battle with illness.
Glenn Stewart could be an unlikely grand final starter even if the Sea Eagles progress, with a high tackle on Sam Burgess landing him on report in the fourth minute.
His missed tackle on the tryline gifted John Sutton one of the easiest tries of his long career, before the Sea Eagles back-rower coughed up possession near halfway without a defender within touching distance.
The Bunnies took full toll with Nathan Merritt scoring to make it 14-0 after 12 minutes — the winger equalling Benny Wearing's club record 144 tries as Adam Reynolds became just the second Rabbitoh after Eric Simms to kick 100 goals in a season.
It seemed a case of how many for Souths as the toll of two tough finals matches appeared to have finally caught up with Manly, before Glenn Stewart began his redemption story with a clever grubber to set up brother Brett as the Sea Eagles scored against the run of play.
Momentum swung wildly as Manly peppered the Bunnies line — but South Sydney held firm including one amazing set containing four goal-line try-savers — two by Greg Inglis who was huge in defence yet quiet in attack.
Halftime had seemingly stymied Manly's charge, but the break only served to recharge the batteries with Brett Stewart's brilliant sleight of hand sending Matt Ballin over down the blindside, the Sea Eagles trailing by just two five minutes after the restart.
Sam Burgess could have stopped the rot only to drop the ball over the tryline, Jamie Lyon making no such mistake as he became the fourth Sea Eagle to notch 1000 points for the club to give his side a lead seemingly unimaginable 20 minutes earlier.
David Williams produced a remarkable piece of acrobatic genius to touch down in the corner just after the hour mark - Tom Symonds kick-starting the party with eight minutes to go when he regathered a charge down on Adam Reynolds to score in front of an emptying 'Burrow' section of the crowd.