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I was there: The Battle of Belmore

There’s nothing like being there when history unfolds. Mark Courtney, author of the Book of Feuds, was there on a cold, Monday night at Belmore Sports Ground in 1986 to witness one of the great games the Rabbitohs have played against our tough rivals, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. 

 It was Round 21; the Bulldogs were reigning premiers while George Piggin’s Rabbitohs team, in his first year as coach, were looking like genuine premiership contenders. It was a nasty, passionate clash that saw captain Mario Fenech sin-binned twice in the first half.

 Mark, on that day wrapped up in Red and Green to protect himself from the chilly temperatures, would write about it about it over 20 years later in his seminal work - ‘The Book of Feuds’.

"The tribal battle between the two clubs became downright brutal in 1986. Souths won six of the first seven games that year before meeting the Premiers on Anzac Day at the Cricket Ground. The Bulldogs kicked off to Souths winger Ross Harrington, who was smashed to the ground by Canterbury prop Peter Kelly's stiff arm in the very first tackle. Kelly was sent straight off and the Souths pack rubbed their collective hands in anticipation. Somehow, though, the day just got worse and worse for the Rabbits and we conceded four tries in a crushing 26-2 loss. It was a football lesson from the champions," wrote Courtney.

"Souths, however, remained near the top of the table right through 1986 and, by the time we met the Bulldogs again, the get-square was on. On a freezing July Monday night at Belmore, Souths skipper Mario Fenech seemed to simply lose the plot in a spiteful, brawling first half and ended up getting sent to the sin bin twice before halftime! The first of these stints followed a wild brawl in the very first set of six tackles, where Fenech ripped his jersey off because it was hampering his punching and fought opposite number Billy Johnstone bare-chested.

"When the fisticuffs were finally halted, Fenech stood there under the lights, his rippling torso steaming, his face wracked with the emotion he always displayed when leading his Rabbitoh warriors. It was on this night that Phil Gould, in his only season at Souths, kept his cool in the midst of growing chaos and masterminded a superb 17-8 win which had the Rabbitoh faithful truly believing that a Premiership was possible."

 The following match report is an extract from Big League Magazine, 30th July - 5th August, 1986. Written by Tim Prentice (Mirror):

SOUTH SYDNEY wrapped up a semi-final berth and gained widespread respect by upsetting premiers Canterbury 17-8 in a fierce contest at Belmore Sports Ground last Monday night.

The Rabbitohs, for so long the ugly ducklings of the Winfield Cup, arrived as a serious premiership contender with a comprehensive three tries to two victory under Bel­more's brilliant new lighting system.

Souths' pack went into battle determined not to concede an inch to the vaunted Bulldogs' six and they came away with more than a comfortable points victory.

With tough guy Lindsay Johnston absorbing an incredible amount of punishment, the way was cleared for crafty second-rower Phil Gould to weave his magic and he figured in all three tries.

Canterbury were highly competitive throughout but paid dearly when centre Andrew Farrer had an off night with his goal kicking.

Six attempts for no result was his sorry tale. Regular kicker Terry Lamb was absent on Test duty and the result may have been different had he played.

Bulldogs' skipper Steve Mortimer said the match was among the toughest he had played all year and agreed that Souths would be a major threat in the semis.

Aside from Gould and Johnstone, Souths got tremendous value from half Coleman, prop Les Davidson and winger Les Biles.

Canterbury's best was second-rower Paul Dunn.

SOUTHS 17(C. Coleman, P. Gould, M. Pobjie tries; N. Baker 2goals, field goal) 
CANTERBURY 8 (S. O'Brien G. Frendo, tries). 

 Scrums: Souths 8-7. 
Penalties: Canterbury 11-9. 
Crowd: 13,984. 
Referee: B. Harrigan.

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