When the Rabbitohs and the Sea Eagles step out onto Allianz Stadium tonight, the game will mark only the twelfth occasion that the two sides will have met in a finals match – three of which were Grand Finals (1951, 1968, 1970).
After most recently going down to the Sea Eagles in the 2013 Preliminary Final, the Rabbitohs still hold the balance of power when it comes to the finals ledger, having come out on top on seven out of ten occasions, with four losses.
While Manly may have entered the competition 39 years after the Rabbitohs did, that didn’t stop the two clubs from beginning one of the game’s greatest rivalries, with real hostilities beginning in earnest as early in the piece as 1951 – the rivalry providing some incredible moments in the process.
Before the next chapter in the rivalry is lit up tonight, we take you through six of the moments that defined the Sea Eagles and South Sydney rivalry.
The 1951 Landslide
As the competition’s newcomers, Manly weren’t expected to cause any real damage in their first few years of battle. However after spending their first four seasons firmly anchored to the bottom of the ladder (finishing ninth and eighth twice out of ten teams), Manly were well and truly in the mix come 1951, finishing an impressive second – albeit a whopping 11 points behind South Sydney.
The real distance between Souths and Manly on the competition ladder would become apparent on Grand Final day that year though, when Manly stepped out for their first ever decider with the Minor Premiership winning Souths their opposition.
On the 23 Septmber 1951, in front of 28,505 people at the SCG, Manly were comprehensively thumped by Souths 42-14 who claimed their 13th Premiership, setting up Manly’s early tag of being the perennial bridesmaids in the process.
Winger Johnny Graves bagged four tries on the day, while Bernie Purcell managed to kick seven goals, bringing his season tally to 106 points.
The day was also significant given that 1951 marked the first year in which the J. J. Giltinan Shield was awarded to the year’s Premiership winning team – the Rabbitohs earning the rare distinction of being the first to etch their names onto it.
Churchill’s Broken Wrist – 1955
Two names will forever be associated with the Rabbitohs’ incredible 1955 season; Captain Jack Rayner, and fullback (and Team of the Century member), Clive Churchill.
At the halfway point of the season, Souths had lost seven of their first 10 matches to all but dismiss the then defending-Premiers as ‘also-rans’ in 1955. But Rayner would have none of it, calling a team meeting in the old Redfern Oval Grandstand to try and salvage the season. In order to retain their Premiership crown, Souths would have to win every match from that point on if they were to be any chance, and the team didn’t disappoint.
With two game’s in the regular season remaining, on Saturday August 13, Souths took on Manly at Redfern Oval and produced one of the most memorable moments in the Club’s history.
Mercurial fullback Churchill, broke his wrist in his first tackle of the game, all but rendering the champion Rabbitoh useless with his arm hanging limply by his side. At half-time, Churchill was advised to not continue, but the fullback insisted that he be allowed to go back on despite his obvious discomfort. Souths’ team doctor fashioned a makeshift cast out of an exercise book and sent the Little Master back onto the field in time for Les ‘Chica’ Cowie to score in the corner to make it 7-7.
With his arm hanging limply along with the Rabbitohs’ season, Churchill lined up the shot from the sideline and booted it over to sink Manly 9-7. Souths went on to claim that year’s Premiership – the Redfern Oval Grandstand pep-talk serving as the catalyst for the turn-around.
The 1968 Grand Final
Souths were flying high in the late sixties, winning their first Grand Final since 1955 in 1967 – the first year of limited tackle football, and after another dazzling season in 1968, the Rabbitohs would look to defend their title against Manly.
Boasting a side bursting with internationals the calibre of John Sattler, Bob McCarthy and Ron Coote – among others – Souths met Manly in the Grand Final mere weeks after going down to them 23-15 at the SCG in the Major Semi.
But when the J. J. Giltinan Shield was put on the line, it was the Rabbitohs who triumphed 13-9 in front of a vocal crowd of 54,255 at the same venue to make it two titles in a row, again denying Manly their elusive maiden Premiership.