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The Newcastle Knights may have entered the then-NSWRL competition in 1988, but the history between South Sydney and Newcastle goes back to the dawn of Australian Rugby League in 1908 – if only for a brief time.
A Newcastle club known as the Rebels, wearing red and white hooped-jerseys, was in fact a Foundation Club in 1908 alongside Souths, Easts, Norths, Balmain, Glebe, Wests, Newtown and Cumberland. Newcastle would disappear from the competition after 1909, but during those two brief years, the rivalry was fierce.
Souths would in fact play a historic role in Newcastle’s development as a Rugby League team, when on 18 April, 1908 – two days before the first ever Premiership kick-off – the clubs played a trial match that would prove to be Newcastle’s first ever game of Rugby League.
The match was played in an attempt to teach the Rebels – comprised of Rugby Union defectors – the new game, and reports suggest that a pack of playing cards was used to teach players the game’s positions and scrum formation. The historic encounter at Wentworth Park was ultimately won by Souths 22-6.
Souths would go on to win their first two games of the season on their way to becoming the first ever champions of the game, while Newcastle would lose their first two before grabbing their first ever win in Round 3 against Cumberland – their first win would also prove to be their largest ever by a score of 37-0.
The clubs would meet on two occasions in 1908. The first match was played in Round 7 (27 June 1908) at the Agricultural Ground in front a crowd of 4000 people, and saw Souths run in eight tries to one to defeat Newcastle by 30-11 – Billy Cann and Harry Butler both grabbing try-scoring doubles while George Cox would be Newcastle’s lone try-scorer.
The return-game, played in the last Round of the regular season (Round 10, Saturday 8 August 1908) saw a far closer encounter, this time at Wentworth Park, with Souths narrowly beating the visitors by 8-3. Dick Green grabbed two tries for Souths. Newcastle would ultimately miss the 1908 finals series having finished fifth – just one spot out of the finals race.
Season 1909 though would see Souths and Newcastle meet on three occasions – twice during the regular season and once in the finals on Souths’ way to consecutive Premierships. But it wouldn’t be all fair sailing for the Premiers.
In Round 2, Souths would defeat Newcastle by 28-9 at the Agricultural Ground by running in eight tries to three. Harry Butler would top-score for the men in red and green with his two tries.
Again meeting Newcastle in the final round of the season, the men in red and white would grab their first, and last win over Souths. Played at the Agricultural ground in front of 3000 spectators, Newcastle would put on a huge defensive effort to keep Souths scoreless – a single try and goal enough to sink the eventual Premiers.
Newcastle would finish the season in third spot while Souths finished first. But hostilities were far from over. Just one week after going down to the Rebels, Souths would get revenge in that year’s Major Semi when they again faced the men from Newcastle – this time for a shot at the Grand Final.
Souths would go on a rampage that afternoon at the Agricultural Ground to inflict the young Newcastle side’s biggest ever loss by 20-0. Souths’ first ever try-scorer, Tommy Anderson, grabbed a double, while the great Howard Hallett, Frank Storie, Jack Levison and Jim Davis would also score that afternoon. The 1909 Souths team then proceeded to that year’s Grand Final, winning the Premiership after Balmain’s infamous no-show. Souths kicked off to nobody and were declared Premiers.
As Souths was there at Newcastle’s beginning at that first trial match, so too they were also there at their end – the side withdrawing from competition at the end of 1909 after suffering Major Semi defeat.
The side would split to form the local Newcastle competition – a competition that would later produce the likes of Rabbitohs skippers Clive Churchill, John Sattler and Ziggy Niszczot (among others).
The Newcastle Knights would enter the NSWRL Premiership in 1988, going on to create a new rivalry with South Sydney that will re-ignite this Saturday night at ANZ Stadium.
The Rabbitohs will take on the Newcastle Knights this Saturday night at ANZ Stadium, with kick-off slated for 7:30pm. Click here to purchase your tickets!