Bad Friday

It was the decision that divided the Rugby League World.

With just over 90 seconds of the bitter 2015 Good Friday clash left, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs forward, James Graham, was penalised for bulldozing into South Sydney Rabbitohs halfback, Adam Reynolds, whilst he was attempting a field goal. The successful penalty kick handed the Red and Green a controversial win.

Amid all the ensuing confusion that led to chaotic debate, both on the terraces and in the media rooms, one thing was certain - modern day rivalries were very much alive.

Six months before this infamous game, the two teams met in the epic 2014 grand final clash, remembered best for a super human effort from Sam Burgess, who played on after breaking his cheekbone in the first minute of the match.

In contrast, the 2015 Good Friday clash is remembered notoriously for its scrappy play and controversial calls and is regarded as one of the great grudge matches of the modern day. Then Sydney Morning Herald journalist Michael Chammas saw it as an escalation in the rivalry the two clubs share.

“Over the past 10 years, as the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs have evolved into Sydney's super clubs, a new modern-day rivalry has been formed that has the potential to supersede the animosity shared with their respective arch enemies,” wrote Chammas in his article.

"Tempers frayed, emotions boiled over and rugby league was left to nurse another black eye as the rapidly-growing feud between the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs entered another chapter.”

The Bulldogs were clearly ready for the match, pinning South Sydney back with their then renowned forward pack, who notched up a monster 1951 metres and hogged the ball with 61 percent of the possession.

The Rabbitohs had no answer early on, struggling in the wet conditions against a side who were simply unbeatable in the wet, winning 11 of their past 12 matches in slippery conditions.

The Bulldogs shot out to a 10-nil lead and looked likely to enact revenge for their grand final humiliation.

However, the mighty Red and Green weren’t Premiers for nothing. The Rabbitohs are built on a never-say-die attitude, resolute defence and they knew they had the ability to win ugly. Souths’ opening try was the epitome of that as hooker Issac Luke crashed over from dummy-half, but this was no ordinary four pointer. 

Sandwiched between the foot of centre, Josh Morris, and the knee of big man, Sam Kasiano, the wryly hooker somehow managed to put the ball down despite being knocked out cold, which sidelined him for the rest of the match.

This incident would see the first controversial call come into play.

Souths were awarded an eight point try for Canterbury-Bankstown’s careless defensive effort and would narrow the score to just two at half-time. Whilst one half of the stadium cheered, the other half jeered and there wasn’t much the 40,523 crowd could agree on, except for the certainty that they were in for a bumper second half.

Players barely had a chance to wipe the sweat from their brows before being thrust back into the action.

The game rose in intensity, the crowd grew hungrier and the desperation became more apparent. Neither side wanted to walk away empty handed but nothing could separate the two colossal forces.

Tries to Bulldogs Josh Morris and Rabbitohs forward Dave Tyrrell still couldn’t separate the teams but the game still favoured the Dogs as they held a narrow two-point lead. Yet, like the one-point Rabbitohs victory on Good Friday in 2014, this blockbuster encounter was destined for a similar outcome.

After battering their way back into the match, the Rabbitohs finally received the chance to level the game and Reynolds duly answered with a long-range conversion attempt. It was a brilliant kick from the halfback in front of a wild crowd.

“It’s on its way, it looks okay, it’s not okay its fantastic!” cried Channel 9 commentator Ray Warren on Reynolds 45-metre conversion attempt.

Locked at 16-all, it was anyone’s guess as to whom would come out on top. Bulldogs halfback Trent Hodkinson would be the first to take charge, easily slotting his first field goal attempt to give the Bulldogs the advantage.

The Rabbitohs had no time to lose, but the controlled reigning Premiers didn’t hit the panic switch, as they motored up the field.

The Cardinal and Myrtle gave their resolute halfback, Reynolds, the best possible chance they could, as they looked to force golden point.

What happened next can only be described as madness.

Reynolds’ audacious field goal from over 40 metres out, went sailing into the sky but the defenceless playmaker never even had the chance to see it take flight, as Graham hurtled into his left ankle.

After a review of the incident, the match officials awarded Souths a penalty from right in front, which fill in kick taker, Bryson Goodwin, easily slotted, handing his side a famous 18-17 win.

The aftermath of the match marred what was a classic battle.

What couldn’t be overshadowed though, was the heart, pride and passion shown by both sets of players, who proved on that very bad, Good Friday encounter, that modern day NRL feuds, still have a beating heart.