|Last 10 Years||16||8||8||0||278 (Avg 17 ppg)||288 (Avg 18 ppg)||50%|
In 1967 Cronulla Sutherland was successful, along with Penrith, in gaining entry into the NSWRL competition. For their entry into the top grade they chose the colours of the Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club - blue, black and white - along with the Shark emblem from the same club.
Souths had little trouble with Cronulla for a few years, winning 10 of the first 11 encounters, but since then they've always been a tough opponent. In fact, since that opening run of success while Cronulla established themselves in the competition, we have beaten them just 28 times in 45 years!
Even early on the problems the Sharks would cause us over the years were not far beneath the surface. Their entry into the competition coincided with the start of our last golden era (1967 - 1971) and, although they only beat us once during those years, we rarely had it all our own way. We first played them at Redfern in round three of the 1967 season, and won 23-15. Strangely, we had just as many goalkickers as tryscorers that day, with Bob Moses, Brian James and captain John Sattler crossing the line and Eric Simms (5), Kevin Longbottom and Bob Honan kicking goals.
The troubles, though, began in round nine, 1970. We had won seven of the first eight matches and Cronulla had won just one, yet they smashed us 25-6 at Endeavour Field.
The following season, another Premiership year for the mighty Rabbitohs, we won both games against the Sharks, but each by only one point. After two easy wins at Endeavor Field to open the season, the Sharks were granted their first ever Match of the Day against Souths in round three. In a cracking game at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Easter Monday, Simms kicked us to a 16-15 win although Cronulla scored three tries to two. Later that year at Endeavour Field we got the points again, this time 22-21. Since that day we've won just nine games at the Sharks home ground.
And it hasn't been easy anywhere else either.
In 1977 we had a dreadful year. Everything seemed to go wrong for us, winning just three games, and the whole season was typified by the game against Cronulla at Redfern in round eight. Well behind early, we fought back magnificently to lead 17-16 into the last five minutes. With just a minute left a scrum was set in centre-field, 10 metres out from the Souths line. Our hooker George Piggins never had the best relationship with the referees and Souths fans held their breath as the scrum packed. The shriek of the whistle pierced the cold afternoon as Gary Cook awarded the Sharks a penalty for feet across the scrum. George emerged from the scrum shaking his head, Steve Rogers easily kicked the winning goal and Souths fans trudged out of Redfern cursing.
In 1978, under supercoach Jack Gibson, we immediately threw off the trials and tribulations of the previous season, winning four games straight to take the pre-season competition. Although the first premiership match was at the dreaded Endeavour Field, we were confident and ready for them. It wasn't to be, though; we were thrashed 25-7.
Even in 1980, when we went nine games without a loss during the back half of the season to scrape into the semi-finals for the first time in six years, the Sharks nearly mucked it up for us. After winning four games in a row, we faced Cronulla at Redfern in round 17. We didn't manage a try that day yet somehow escaped with a 6-all draw, courtesy of three goals from fullback Eric Ferguson, a hero of the run to the finals. That we then won the next four games indicates just how well we were playing and highlights Cronulla's uncanny knack of troubling us.
There was a great day in 1984, though, which ended a 10-year losing streak at Endeavour. Our hopes of a spot in the play-offs had faded with two successive losses when we went to the Shire in round 24, needing to win that game and the final round match against Norths to force a play-off for fifth place. On this day the spectre of Endeavour Field must have taken a holiday as we really clicked. Darren McCarthy, Joe Thomas, Neil Baker and Craig Coleman all scored tries as we cruised to a 20-6 win, setting up the glorious events to follow (including our play-off win against Canberra and the legendary victory against Manly in the knockout semi-final).
The late '80s was a period of great success for Souths but even then the Sharks caused us headaches. In 1986 we led, or nearly led, the competition all the way, missing the minor premiership by just a point, while Cronulla ran 10th. Yet they beat us 14-0 at Endeavour (by then known as Shark Park) and held us to a 14-all draw at Redfern, where we only lost twice all season. Even in 1989 - when we lost just three regular season matches, bolted away to win the minor premiership by five points and enjoyed a rare victory at the Shark Park graveyard - they beat us 6-4 at the Sydney Football Stadium in round 18.
In fact, that game was the first of a series of 18 matches against the Sharks during which we won just once, and we didn't win again at Shark Park for 16 years. There was even a period between 1994 and 1998 where the combined score of the four matches played between us was Cronulla 90, Souths 2. That's right. We scored a total of two points in four games!
And then there was the absurd encounter at the end of our disastrous 2003 season. Winning just three matches, we had already locked up the wooden spoon and began the match as though we were just waiting for Mad Monday. Yet somehow, down 32-8 just after halftime, the Rabbitohs started a comeback. Scoring four tries in 20 minutes, we got back to 36-30 but then, just as long-suffering fans raised their hopes of a season-ending victory, Souths managed to concede three converted tries in seven minutes to eventually lose by the ridiculous score of 54-34. It was a fitting end to an abysmal year.
Yet, despite all that, despite a tale of woe that runs deeper than almost any other opponent, we seem to have somewhat turned the corner since then.
In early 2004 everything went right against the Sharks at Aussie Stadium on a night when their five-eighth Greg Bird was sent off for a vicious knee to the head of Souths winger Shane Marteene. Luke McDougall scored three tries in the second half as we ran away with the game 36-12.
In 2005 a truly glorious win was achieved. After beating Cronulla 24-14 at Aussie Stadium earlier in the year, we went to Shark Park on the last Saturday night of the season needing a win to ensure we avoided the wooden spoon. In a pulsating match worthy of a semi-final, the Sharks jumped to a 12-0 lead before a superb individual try by John Sutton got us back to 12-6 at halftime. Three minutes after the break a Todd Polglase try locked it up at 12-all and then Sutton, an absolute colossus on the night, beat four tacklers in another incredible effort, crashing over for an 18-12 lead. Attacking the Cronulla line, we looked likely to wrap it up when Sharks centre Paul Mellor took an intercept and raced the length of the field for his second try to get Cronulla back to 18-all. A Ben Walker penalty goal and another converted try to Polglase seemingly had us safe at 26-18. But nothing is ever safe at Shark Park and Cronulla fullback David Peachey scored to set up a nerve-jangling last 10 minutes. The play went from end-to-end as the Rabbitohs struggled to hold on to their 26-22 lead. And hold on we did. It was our first win at Shark Park since 1989 and only the third time since 1971 that we had beaten Cronulla twice in a season.
It was another double dose in 2007. After a sparkling first fortnight, when we beat the Roosters and Parramatta, it was once again off to Shark Park on a Saturday night. Our round three team that night included five ex-Sharks - Nathan Merritt, Luke Stuart, Paul Mellor, Nigel Vagana and David Peachey - and much was made of this in the lead-up. The so-called "Cronulla 5" was on fire early, with Mellor setting up Peachey for a try in the right corner after just seven minutes; and Merritt crossing in the other corner 10 minutes later. Hooker Daniel Irvine scored a superb team try and then Merritt broke clear and ran 60 metres to score the fourth Rabbitoh try before halftime. The Sharks got one back in the second half before co-captain David Kidwell wrapped it up with another try. It finished 26-16 and secured our best start to the season since 1972. In round 15 we repeated the dose at Telstra Stadium, winning a real nail-biter 16-12.
Heading into the final game of the 2009 season at Shark Park, neither team could make the finals, but plenty of pride was on the line as both sides looked to finish the year on a high. There was an air of desperation as the two combatants went toe-to-toe in the first half, with Souths returning serve after the Sharks posted first points. Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen, notorious for his on field antics, was sin binned for a professional foul in the 30th minute. That seemed to flick a switch for the Sharks, as hooker Terrence Seu Seu and Rabbitohs' back Jamie Simpson got involved in an ugly altercation soon afterwards. As the dust settled, both sides went to back to business and scored one more try apiece to level up 12-all going into the sheds.
The second half proved to be just as tight. Two converted tries and a penalty goal to the Sharks were nearly matched by converted tries to Nathan Merritt and Chris McQueen but the Red and Greens trailed by two points heading into the final ten minutes. With only a minute and a half remaining it looked like all was lost, until a moment of pure magic closed the Rabbitohs season. With 5 tackles gone and 35 metres out from the line, John Sutton hoisted a huge bomb, which seemed destined to land in the arms of the Sharks' fullback David Simmons. But Issac Luke jumped up and stripped the ball mid-air, giving his side one last set of six within the Sharks red zone.
As Cronulla's defence scrambled, again it seemed like they had our measure until the final play of the match. With just ten seconds on the clock Sutton, standing at first receiver calmly strolled towards the line, drawing defenders and threw a short ball to prop forward Scott Geddes, who crashed over untouched to score his first try of the year in his 100th match. Geddes and the rest of the Rabbitohs celebrated as though they'd won the comp and the 26-24 victory was a sweet end to an otherwise forgettable season.
Souths posted comprehensive wins over the Sharks in the next two encounters, winning 30-8 and 32-12, but the following six matches up to the end of 2014 season would go tit-for-tat.
Then came a memorable encounter, not in the NRL Premiership, but at the 2015 Auckland Nines pre-season tournament. Having won their historic 2014 premiership just months prior, Souths disposed of all their opponents in the nine-a-side competition, comprehensively making their way to the final. Their opponents were the Sharks, 2014 wooden spooners, who had shocked plenty and outdone themselves in the new pre-season format.
The Rabbitohs swooped first with a try to winger Bryson Goodwin, who climbed over the top of his opposite to take a bomb and crash over just minutes into the contest. The Sharks replied with a long range try of their own, but we stole the lead as rookie Chris Grevsmuhl charged down a kick from the Sharks and regathered to score in the final seconds of the half, giving us a 10-4 advantage.
In typical fashion though, the Sharks gave us plenty of trouble throughout the second stanza, constantly matching us on the scoreboard.
Their first try after the break was controversial, as the Sharks regathered from a dropout, and went on to score. The only problem was that the video replay clearly showed they had caught the ball before it had gone ten metres. It was a game-changing moment, but the Red and Greens weren't done with by any means, young hooker Cameron McInnes barging over to give us a 14-8 lead with just minutes remaining.
Just as we looked set to finish the Sharks, an intercept from hooker Pat Politoni saw them charge downfield. The pain in the backside that Cronulla had always been over the years continued, as they scored in the corner on the very last play of the match. To make matters worse, winger Valentine Holmes booted a massive conversion from the sideline to take the match into Golden Try extra time.
In the first set of six in extra time, halfback Adam Reynolds booted a 40/20 kick, giving Souths the perfect chance to put the match to bed. But, despite us having many opportunities on their line, the Sharks were able to absorb everything we threw at them. When a looping pass from captain Issac Luke found winger Joel Reddy, it looked like we had scored the winning try but, as the side celebrated in jubilation, the pass was called forward. We just couldn't land the knockout blow!
After yet another line dropout, forward Dave Tyrrell hurtled downfield with multiple defenders on his back. McInnes picked up the ball from dummy half and sped away, putting the Sharks once more on the backfoot. Just 20 metres from the line, Luke again darted from dummy half, creating an overlap on the blind side before throwing an perfect cutout pass to the retired veteran Matt King, returning just to play in the Nines, who slid over in the corner to steal the match and give the Rabbitohs a sensational 18-14 victory.
South Sydney had made history once again, winning the very first Auckland Nines tournament. Not only was it a resounding victory for the Club, but a great scalp in our long history against the Cronulla Sharks.
Once the Premiership proper started for 2015, however, the Sharks had our measure when we met them at Shark Park in Round 7, in the match infamously dubbed as 'Sharknado', with a torrential downpour and a howling gale making the field look more like a quagmire than a football pitch. We went down 18-10 that night in an error-filled affair.
The Rabbitohs Premiership defence in 2015 was difficult, riddled as it was with injuries and suspensions, but, with three rounds to go, we were in the top 4 and still on track, it seemed, for a tilt at back to back titles. However, three losses in a row saw us drop to 7th on the ladder and set up a date with the Sharks in the first week of the finals at Allianz Stadium.
It was the first ever finals meeting between the clubs after nearly half a century but, leading into the game, things didn't look good. With three straight losses eroding the confidence of the team, we were also without John Sutton, Issac Luke and George Burgess (the latter two suspended). However, with our captain and superstar fullback Greg Inglis returning from injury, there was a glimmer of hope.
After a very encouraging opening period, where the Rabbitohs matched their opponents in every aspect of the game, the Sharks got the upper hand and went right on with it, grinding their way to a 28-0 lead late in the match Despite two late tries to Dylan Walker and Chris Grevsmuhl, the final scoreline read 28-12 and, sadly, our Premiership defence ended that afternoon.
The next year, despite a run of injuries and poor form that saw Souths drop out early from the Finals race, we got them back. And good.
It was a rebuilding year from our premiership hangover and a group of youngsters and new faces saw the makeup of the squad go through numerous changes. The Sharks, on the other hand, were flying high and poised to take out the first title in their 50-year history.
We didn't meet them until a wet Monday night at ANZ Stadium in Round 24 and the bookmakers gave us no hope. However, as has been proven time and time again throughout the last 110 years, you can never write off the Rabbitohs!
It was an arm-wrestle of a match, with the forward packs going at it head on. However, it was five-eighth Cody Walker who took an offload and burst through the Sharks' line just five metres out to score next to the posts. Although we held that 6-0 advantage early on, things weren't made any easier when halfback and general Adam Reynolds had to exit the contest just ten minutes in. We edged further ahead on the stroke of halftime when hooker Damien Cook landed a penalty goal to give us an 8-nil advantage at the break.
When forward Kyle Turner went off, leaving Souths with just a two man bench, things looked grim. And the Sharks struck back ten minutes into the second half through backrower Wade Graham, reducing our advantage to just two points.
The scores stayed locked at 8-6, with both sides continuing to probe to no avail, until fullback Greg Inglis sent English winger Joe Burgess over for a try in the corner with less than thirty seconds left. The flying winger leapt like an acrobat, putting the ball down as his body soared over the sideline. Although the final conversion was missed, the gritty 12-6 win against the Sharks proved to be one of our best of the season.
The Sharks have historically been a real problem for us. Wherever the two sides have been on the competition table, they've nearly always managed to give us trouble. Except for our total dominance in their first few seasons back in the lat 60s, it's only in the last decade that we've even managed to have a period of level pegging with them.
Whenever we play Cronulla, we must be acutely aware of their winning history against us and we must never, under any circumstances, take them lightly. They are certainly not representative of the sleepy beach culture of the Shire when they line up against the Rabbitohs. They are sharks waiting to attack and we must be ready. Otherwise, we'll find ourselves in deeper water.
We must be absolutely on our guard; absolutely at the top of our game. Only then will we be able to get them in our net and, once we have the ascendancy, they won't be able to escape.