A total of 249 years of history will collide in the World Club Challenge on Monday morning (AEDT), when reigning NRL Premiers the Rabbitohs take on reigning English Super League Premiers St Helens for a shot at world supremacy.
For the Rabbitohs, after 107 years, the NRL’s oldest and most successful club will play for the very first time in the land of the game’s birth, England, some 80 kilometres away from the George Hotel in Huddersfield, Yorkshire where the game tore away from Rugby Union on August 29, 1895.
The magnitude of the occasion hasn’t been lost on England’s Rugby League public, with huge turn-outs at open training sessions and community events, dotted by an influx of Rabbitohs jerseys and red and green in a show of the ever-growing reach of the Rabbitohs brand.
Even St Helens coach, Keiron Cunningham, has been swept up in the importance of the occasion, describing the chance to play Souths as the proudest moment of his illustrious career, labelling the red and green’s ‘giants of the game’.
"I won't have had a prouder moment as a St Helens boy than seeing Souths walk out on to Langtree Park,” the Saints mentor told Saint Helens’ official wesbite.
“It is an honour for us to be rubbing shoulders with these giants of the game.”
“Souths are a fantastic team; I look at Michael Maguire as a coaching idol. He has done well in his career and to go back to Australia and do the same with Souths was phenomenal.
"It will be good for me to pit my wits against him and learn some things too. I now have the opportunity as a coach to see a great team play against the best team in the world."
A Northern Union with Southern Ramifications
Both the Rabbitohs and St Helens hold a unique place in Rugby League history thanks to their links to the formation of the game in both their countries.
The game of Rugby League was born on August 29, 1895 at the George Hotel, Huddersfield in Yorkshire as a result of a rift within the ultra-conservative Rugby Union.
The issue was that of compensation for players for loss of time from work as a result of playing the game. At the time, Rugby was a game for University and Public school men – men who could afford to take time off work and pay their own expenses. But the physicality of the game appealed to the blue collar workers of the English North who in most cases couldn’t afford the loss of any wage, much less run the risk of long-term injury.
At an historic meeting at the Hotel, 22 English Clubs, including the Rabbitohs’ World Club Challenge rivals St Helens – initially formed as a Rugby Union club in 1873 – joined the new competition and game branded then as ‘Northern Union’.
The game would ultimately travel to ‘the colony’ 13 years later and again broke away from the established Rugby Union on the same premise as that of the English schism – compensation payments.
On January 17, 1908, with Sydney experiencing an irrepressible heat wave, the South Sydney District Rugby League Football Club was unanimously voted into existence at a meeting at Redfern Town Hall and was thus set on a path to becoming the most successful club in Australian Rugby League history.
Over 107 years after that heat-wave, 21 Premierships later, both foundations Clubs from opposite ends of the earth, opposite hemispheres, and opposing competitions, will come together to decide which is the best Rugby League club in the world.