Before the South Sydney Rabbitohs take on the Wigan Warriors in the International Double Header, we look back at the history of Super League clubs that have come up against the Red and Green throughout the years.
Today we look at one of the more unique games in the Club’s history - the 2008 Australia Day Challenge against the Leeds Rhinos in Jacksonville, Florida.
In what was another innovative play on the Rabbitohs behalf, 12,500 fans, including Russell Crowe, golfer Greg Norman and the stars of TV series American Chopper, filled out the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium in the first ever club game held in the United States.
Things were looking dire for the inexperienced Rabbitohs as they trailed 26-0 at the break against a Rhinos outfit fielding the same starting side that had just taken out the 2007 Super League title.
However, in true Rabbitohs spirit, the youngsters in red and green came back within a whisker to finish off the game 24-26, with Eddie Paea, Ben Rogers, George Ndaira and man of the match Issac Luke touching down in what was a successful day for Rugby League.
Rabbitohs’ Media and Communications Manager Jeremy Monahan was on hand for the event, and spoke fondly of the unique experience of seeing the famous Cardinal and Myrtle being flown in North America.
“There was a lot of celebrity power around that game because Russell [Crowe] organised quite a lot of it, he had been on the NFL’s Monday Night Football talking about it,” he said.
Rabbitohs Media and Communications Manager Jeremy Monahan
“It was amazing. Within the 12,000 people there were people who had travelled from Australia and England, but there were a lot of people who turned up to see this new sport called Rugby League.”
“It was unreal, it was like nothing I had seen before. Trying to manage the media in that game was crazy, we had over 100 requests from photographers for accreditation of the game. The night before the game I had twenty minutes of sleep after just packing all these media accreditations getting ready for the game.
“We had some great help from a bloke called Daryl ‘Spinner’ Howland, who owned the Jacksonville Axemen Rugby League side, and he was trying to promote his own team in the local competition. What’s interesting is that most of the English teams go to the US for off season camps, because the fields in England are literally frozen, and since then Leeds have been there five or six times to Jacksonville.
“Greg Norman was at the game, Layne Beachley was there, Angelo Dundee, who was Muhammad Ali’s trainer was there and Dennis Rodman, so there was a bit of a celebrity interest factor there to promote this quirky game that no one had heard of. The way those people got behind the game and supported it was fantastic.”