Ziggy On Manly

No one can talk about a rivalry better than someone who lived it. Ziggy Niszczot lived the Manly rivalry in the early 80s, overseeing a competitive period for the Rabbitohs. Captaining the club, Ziggy helped reinvigorate the Grand Old Club to reach the 1984 finals series - his last career try coming against Manly in the 1984 preliminary final.

It would be a fitting last try for Niszczot for several reasons; one being it was his birthday, another being it was against the Sea Eagles - a team who were dominant in the early 80s due, in large part, to their well-run leagues club cash flow.

He was captain of the club when Manly seduced Tony Melrose to head north - a mate he played alongside almost 50 times in the Red and Green. The following year they would be on opposite sides of that infamous SCG brawl of the 1984 preliminary final.

But that was just the way it was back then and Ziggy had to shoulder the responsibility of having his team focused and ready to compete with whoever crossed that white line on game day.

“We were always ready to go once we were out there. We never planned to get fired up but some games proved that way where we had to or we’d get flogged,” explained Niszczot.

“That was the case with Manly. They had two international-filled teams playing first grade and reserve grade. There was always going to be rivalry against teams like that.

“Souths and Manly had a special rivalry. Manly and Easts were the big ones in the ’80s because a lot of our players went to them. Tony Melrose went to Manly and actually played in the 1984 preliminary final where we called ‘Henry’.

“There was always a bit of animosity. Manly were very similar to the Roosters. They were the Silvertails, the Roosters had money behind them. They’d take all our players, all our juniors, so there was always going to be a rivalry between us and those two teams.”

And while Ziggy would bleed for the Rabbitohs over his 114 games, the rivalry was lived just as strongly by the supporters on the other side of the fence - the people born into it.

“You feel it amongst the fans, they’re a big part of the game. I was pretty embarrassed when fans came out and looked up to you. I just thought I was another player down there. I’d always sign autographs and always have a chat to them before the game, and that’s probably why I had a good following,” said Niszczot.

“There’s nobody like them, their energy and noise, the bigger the crowd the better. The more they shouted ‘South Sydney, South Sydney’, well, the easier it is for us players to play better.”

The respect Ziggy felt for the Rabbitohs faithful, and his acknowledgement of their role in the on-field dramas that keeps rugby league interesting and exciting, is what helped forged the Maitland boy as a fan favourite in Redfern.

Although it wasn’t smooth sailing to begin with - learning how to survive in the big smoke took a bit of time for the self-proclaimed “bush boy”. 

“It was a bit of a learning curve for me when I first came down to Souths. I was a bush boy amongst the city boys. I was a fish out of water, it took me a little while to adjust,” recalls Niszczot.

“But the culture of the place came with a couple years of experience under Billy Anderson. When Ron Willey took us over as coach he appointed me captain and that comradeship that we had, growing through the years with Souths, it just made things very good for me. 

“I was proud to be captain, I’m very thankful to Ron Willey for doing that - although it was pretty hard to do it from the wing!”