Glory Glory to South Sydney!
Glory Glory to South Sydney!
This coming weekend’s Rugby League Grand Final has already made history. The South Sydney Rabbitohs, a team that were on the chopping block just over a decade ago, are now in the big game – against the Canterbury Bulldogs – after 43 years of waiting. Their story has gained attention well beyond a little pocket of Sydney suburbia, with good reason.
The drama of the little team that could has been riveting – and it’s attracted actors, theatre-makers, and comedians keen to tell the story again and again.
Rugby League isn’t a game that obviously and overtly draws artistic types; but the South Sydney Rabbitohs are a different type of team. They are an inner city/south east Sydney team that attracts battlers and underdogs. And the team has been close to the brink many times.
In the late 1990s the Murdochs proposed a Super League competition and Souths, who were lingering at the bottom of the ladder, faced extinction. The fan community rallied and the team has survived – but the showdown with News Limited hasn’t been forgotten.
This week Fairfax newspapers revived the saga, arguing, “whenever you see a Murdoch newspaper claim ‘we’re for Souths’, remember the treachery and call it hypocrisy”.
The battle to save Souths wasn’t just about community versus corporations, but in this case, the media corporation, News Limited, and its desire to take the game to Pay TV. This was a “little Aussie battler” arguing over identity and types of belonging that were much bigger than simply a code.
In 1999, when the future of the team was in strife, tens of thousands of Sydneysiders took to the streets to try to turn the tide. As Rabbitohs fan Andrew Denton put it on the ABC’s Australian Story in 1999, it was a display of:
In Denton’s words from that time: “You don’t have to follow football or understand the game to follow [the] story. It’s that old classic David and Goliath”.
By 2001 the team’s fate looked stronger and Australian Story returned again to the Bunnies. Comedian and Rabbitohs supporter Mikey Robbins called the Souths:
more than a story about a football team, it’s about a small community that took on a multinational, multimedia organisation.
In 2004 the story of the Rabbitohs vs News Limited was developed for the stage by writer Alana Valentine and Kate Gaul and supported by Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre as Run Rabbit Run. The production broke stereotypes about rubgy league: the show was driven by women, “arty” types and Indigenous communities – not a club of beer-swigging boofy white blokes.
A key feature was the letters of support (and advice for the Murdochs) from people like the broadcaster Caroline Jones. Her letter, as reproduced in the teacher’s notes for the play, addressed Murdoch junior:
Dear Lachlan, it might help if I explain a few things about Australians … They say we’re still not sure what our identity is, but try taking it away from us and you’ll soon find out because suddenly it becomes very clear what it is to be unAustralian.
Delivered during the Howard years, when being called unAustralian was the ultimate insult, these were fighting words. It was as if an attack on the identity of a local, historical, social group such as South Sydney was an attack not just on football but on the nation.
Run Rabbit Run covered the drama of the game on its own terms and also dealt with the politics within the Rabbitohs’ traditional fan base, one that encompasses a spectrum of fans including working class, Indigenous and disadvantaged communities, as well as inner city and international superstar types.
The original fight to save Souths came via the former Chairman of South Sydney Leagues Club and former player George Piggins.
He was the man who took the NRL and New Limited to court. The 2001 Australian Story was really his, titled simply “In George We Trust”.
But once the battle to stay on the field was won, the battle to build a winning team was taken over by a much bigger player, or at least one with much deeper pockets – Russell Crowe.
Crowe purchased the team with Peter Holmes à Court in 2006. He has famously bankrolled Armani suits for players, poured rivers of cash into the team’s infrastructure, and made sure his Hollywood mates know what team to support when they’re visiting.
A photo gallery of Famous Rabbitohs Fans includes Oprah Winfrey, Snoop Dogg, Ben Affleck, Eva Mendes, Christian Bale and Pamela Anderson all in bunnies gear – none even necessarily even knowing what NRL is, but at least willing to fly the flag. Crowe and Holmes à Court have made the team financially viable and the code’s biggest brand – not bad for a team thought of a dispensable not so long ago.
As for the actual game this weekend, the team is as strong as it’s been in a long time. Whether Souths win or not – although, wouldn’t it be lovely! – the story of the Rabbitohs remains unique, unlikely and inspiring.
Let’s examine some recent evidence.
Manly centre Steve Matai leaps into the air to clothesline George Burgess with a violent swinging forearm and only gets a one week suspension with an early guilty plea.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey spits the dummy.
Manly fullback Brett Stewart drops his elbow into Andrew Everingham’s jaw, even though Andrew wasn’t even carrying the ball, and gets away with the offence through an early guilty plea.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey has a whinge.
Manly forward Richie Fa’aoso drops Greg Inglis on his head not once, but twice, in a blatant and dangerous spear tackle and only gets an eight week suspension. Bulldogs centre Krisnan Inu got five weeks for doing it only once to Greg Inglis. Based on the precedence Richie Fa’aoso should have got at least ten.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey sooks to the cameras.
Manly forward Jason King also hits Greg Inglis with a spear tackle and drops him on his head, resulting in six stitches for the South Sydney fullback. No penalty at the time. No charges laid.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey bitches about how unfairly his team are treated.
Anyone could easily think that this list of misdemeanours occurred throughout an entire season, but they didn’t. They happened in one spiteful 80 minutes of Rugby League when Manly coach Geoff Toovey’s team showed up to fight and the South Sydney Rabbitohs concentrated on playing football.
In the post match conference, after Souths had run out convincing winners, Manly coach Geoff Toovey complained that the elbow to the jaw and the swinging arm did not warrant penalties. Manly coach Geoff Toovey also suggested that Greg Inglis was taking dives and falling on his head on purpose.
WTF Manly coach Geoff Toovey! Are you serious?
Manly captain Jamie Lyon claimed Greg Inglis head butted the ground on purpose so he could get a quick play-the-ball.
Manly winger Jorge Taufua thought the illegal forearm by Manly centre Steve Matai, was “f. . .ng awesome, man, I love playing outside that guy. When he pulls it off, I just lose it.”
Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans thought the illegal forearm by Manly centre Steve Matai was “a cracker of a hit.”
I wonder if he would feel the same if it was his face that Manly centre Steve Matai sought to rearrange with his right forearm.
Sensibly Manly forward Richie Fa’aoso hasn’t commented yet. Don’t forget though that this is the same guy who hit Gold Coast forward Ashley Harrison with an illegal shoulder charge earlier in the season. Ashley was left concussed and had to be stretchered off the field. Manly coach Geoff Toovey lashed out at the judiciary via every media outlet he could find that would listen to his insane rantings and managed to have the charge downgraded. Richie Fa’aoso only got a one week ban.
Manly forwards Justin Horo and Brenton Lawrence were put on report for dropping West Tigers centre Blake Ayshford on his head in round 4. Nothing happened to them.
These are not simply heavy hits from hard men in a tough game of Rugby League. They are blatant, illegal practices from a coach with no other ideas.
Well congratulations Manly coach Geoff Toovey, you have once again galvanised the entire rugby league community into a hatred for your team, something previous Manly coach Des Hasler had worked so hard to change.
Perhaps, Manly coach Geoff Toovey, you should concentrate on actually coaching your players on how to play football? Thuggery and brutal stupidity might have you riding high on the competition ladder at the moment, but as your players build up an unsavoury reputation with the judiciary, and the suspensions become longer and longer, you will slide into oblivion.
Just a thought.
P.S: Yes I am a South Sydney supporter and no, I have never played Rugby League outside of high-school. So what makes me qualified to comment? Check out the video above and see for yourself.
Images from the Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald, ABC, and Fox Sports.
On the 17 January, way back in 1908, the South Sydney District Rugby League Football Club was founded at Redfern Town Hall and Rugby League was born. Nine teams comprised the competition that year. They were, in alphabetical order;
Souths won the inaugural game of Rugby League, held at Birchgrove Oval, by defeating North Sydney 11 points to 7. South Sydney finished as minor premiers that year and went on to win the very first Grand Final by beating Eastern Suburbs 14 points to 12.
Since their auspicious beginnings Souths have gone on to win 20 premierships in total, a Rugby League record in Australia. We have also produced 64 Australian internationals, another record.
In 1925 Souths went through the entire season undefeated. They were the first Rugby League team to do so and are still one of only six teams to have ever achieved that milestone.
In 1951 Souths defeated Manly-Warringah 42 points to 14 in the Grand Final to claim their 13th title. It still remains as the highest score by any team in a Grand Final and the third highest margin. Manly gained some credibility back when they belted the Melbourne Storm 40 points to nil in 2008 😉
The miracle of ’55 saw Souths will eleven straight sudden death games in a row to claim their sixteenth premiership trophy.
The ’60s and ’70s saw four more Grand Final successes for the Rabbitohs, but times have been very lean since. In 2012 Souths finished third, which is their best performance since taking out the minor premiership in 1989.
With the largest membership base of any Sydney team, effective recruitment strategies and strong ties to the indigenous community, the Souths are poised to bring home their 21st premiership trophy.
Glory, Glory to South Sydney and happy birthday to the mighty Rabbitohs.