When the Grand Final kicks off on Sunday night, not only will a winner be declared, but the best on field will also be named to claim the 2016 Clive Churchill Medal.
The prestigious Clive Churchill Medal, named after Rabbitohs Immortal, is awarded to the official Man of the Match in the Grand Final.
While retrospective Medals have been awarded as far back as 1954 – Churchill winning the very first one – the medal first saw light in 1986, honouring the death of the ‘Little Master’ in 1985. The first Clive Churchill Medal was awarded to Parramatta’s Peter Sterling.
To date, Sam Burgess has been the only South Sydney player to win the medal for the Red and Green, awarded upon his performance in the 2014 Grand Final. Other players who have represented South Sydney but won the award at other clubs include Jim Dymock in 1995, Glenn Stewart in 2011 and current Rabbitohs Captain, Greg Inglis, who won the award in 2007 while playing at the Melbourne Storm.
Churchill made his debut for the South Sydney Rabbitohs in 1947. Souths were to play their second last game of the season against the Newtown Jets at Erskineville Oval when the Club decided to give Churchill - a late-season signing acquired from Newcastle for the price of 12 pounds 10 shillings per game - a shot at first grade. Churchill showed what he was capable of and kicked three goals for the Rabbitohs in their 25-10 loss.
It would not take long for the young fullback to cement his spot in the South Sydney line-up, soon becoming a household name, representing, and eventually captaining his Club, state and country.
But it would be his incredible courage in a 1955 game for Souths that would make Churchill the stuff of legend. In a game that showed great determination and pain control, Churchill played on after breaking his left wrist in the first tackle of the Rabbitohs Round 17 match against Manly at Redfern Oval.
The injury was treated with a cardboard splint at half-time and with Souths drawing level at 7-7 in the final minute of the match courtesy of a Les Cowie try, Captain-Coach Jack Rayner places the fate of the match in the wounded fullback’s hands.
With his arm hanging limply by his side, an unfazed Churchill strolls in and kicks the most memorable goal in Souths’ history to seal the result for his side in front of 15,000 people.
The Little Master’s heroic effort from the sideline would see the Rabbitohs hold fourth position on the table, maintaining their narrow lead over Norths and ensuring that the side would qualify for the semi-finals.
Churchill went on to play 157 games in the Cardinal Red and Myrtle Green spanning across 12 seasons from 1947-1958. Standing at just 171cm tall and weighing 74kg, he is widely regarded as the greatest to have played the game, winning five premierships with South Sydney and shaping the way that modern rugby league is played.
Churchill’s impact on the game is further reflected through his selection as a rugby league ‘Immortal’ and in Australia’s rugby league ‘Team of the Century’ as well as having a stand at the Sydney Cricket Ground and the best and fairest grand final medal named in his honour. He was also honoured in 1985 as a Member of the Order of Australia "in recognition of service to sport, particularly Rugby League Football and to the community".
After concluding his Rabbitohs playing career in 1955 and a coaching stint at Canterbury-Bankstown, Churchill returned to Redfern in 1967 to Coach the Souths in their next Golden Era to take out four Premierships in five years.
Sunday will reveal the next Clive Churchill Medalist, when minor premiers Melbourne Storm running out to meet the Cronulla Sharks in the 2016 NRL Grand Final.
Read our Grand Final Preview here.
Clive Churchill Medallists
1986: Peter Sterling – Parramatta Eels Halfback
1987: Cliff Lyons – Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Five-eighth
1988: Paul Dunn – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Prop
1989: Bradley Clyde Canberra Raiders Lock
1990: Ricky Stuart Canberra Raiders Halfback
1991: Bradley Clyde Canberra Raiders Lock
1992: Allan Langer Brisbane Broncos Halfback
1993: Brad Mackay St George Dragons Lock
1994: David Furner Canberra Raiders Second-rower
1995: Jim Dymock Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Lock
1996: Geoff Toovey Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Halfback
1997: Robbie O'Davis Newcastle Knights Fullback
1998: Gorden Tallis Brisbane Broncos Second-rower
1999: Brett Kimmorley Melbourne Storm Halfback
2000: Darren Lockyer Brisbane Broncos Fullback
2001: Andrew Johns Newcastle Knights Halfback
2002: Craig Fitzgibbon Sydney Roosters Second-rower
2003: Luke Priddis Penrith Panthers Hooker
2004: Willie Mason Bulldogs Prop
2005: Scott Prince Wests Tigers Halfback
2006: Shaun Berrigan Brisbane Broncos Hooker
2007: Greg Inglis Melbourne Storm Five-eighth
2008: Brent Kite Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Prop
2009: Billy Slater Melbourne Storm Fullback
2010: Darius Boyd St. George Illawarra Dragons Fullback
2011: Glenn Stewart Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Lock
2012: Cooper Cronk Melbourne Storm Halfback
2013: Daly Cherry-Evans Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Halfback
2014: Sam Burgess South Sydney Rabbitohs Lock
2015: Johnathan Thurston North Queensland Cowboys Halfback