Everything was going by the script for St George Illawarra at Wollongong Stadium in round 21 of 2011. The reigning premiers piled on a 20-point lead over the Rabbitohs in just 20 minutes and were looking like they’d run away with yet another win over Souths after winning their four previous encounters. But the Rabbitohs were sick of that script.
There were finals hopes on the line for Souths, but for Rabbitohs centre Dylan Farrell there were plenty of additional motivators when the Red and Green lined-up against the Red V on that cool Sunday afternoon.
Lining-up for kick off, with Nathan Merritt standing off his right shoulder, as Farrell waited for referee Shayne Hayne to blow his whistle, there were at least 25 family members waiting in anticipation to watch their Dylan play his first game at Wollongong Stadium - so close to where he grew up in Culburra on the South Coast.
Little did the Farrell clan know they were about to witness one of the Rabbitohs finest victories of 2011. A win that Dylan was heavily involved in as he bagged a hat-trick in front of a hostile Dragons crowd.
“As a team we were motivated because they were the reigning premiers, you try and get up for those bigger games. Team’s like to use the old cliche “you take each week the same” but it’s never like that to be honest. When you’re coming up against the better sides the week of preparation and training always seems more switched on,” explains Farrell.
Michael Crocker was captain that day. In the build-up to the game, as it became known around the dressing sheds that Dylan’s family were going to be present, ‘Crock’ wanted to make sure his team felt a responsibility to make it a great day for the Farrell family.
“A whole lot of Dylan’s family came up from Culburra, it was a really big thing for him. There is always an emphasis on that in the squad, you know when you’ve got a player like that with his family there you want to make it special for them,” said Crocker.
When his team fell behind by 20 points in the first quarter of the game Crocker knew Souths had an attitude problem. But he had faith in the skill and competitiveness of Souths against the 2010 Premiers. What was said at halftime can only be speculated on but the Rabbitohs captain can vouch that it was said loudly.
"From my point-of-view it was always about our attitude regardless of what the scoreline was. We wanted to play our best footy and finish the game knowing that we put everything into it. We knew what we needed to do and we were embarrassed in the first half - we had a halftime speech that was a fair spray,” laughs Crocker.
Dylan never let his head drop despite a horror first quarter in front of his family and friends that had made the trip to watch him play.
“They got off to such a fast start but when we had the ball we felt like we could score so none of us were too daunted by it. Rhys Wesser scored just before half time and that sort of lifted our confidence and belief - we just needed to get the ball,” said Farrell.
“Our defence was pretty terrible and we were letting them get away with easy line breaks. But we knew that if we had the ball we were better in attack. In the second half it was still try-for-try but we obviously got a few more.”
He was right and the Rabbitohs would go on to win 34-24 in a thrilling encounter. Mark Courtney’s Book of Feuds details that brilliant day in Wollongong:
“The Dragons again shot out of the blocks, leading by 20 points after just 20 minutes. We scored a consolation try before halftime, but you couldn’t blame any Rabbitohs supporter for thinking it was already over. However, a different side came out after the break and we piled on three tries, two thanks to Chris Sandow’s boot, to lead 22-20 with 25 minutes left. It was an unbelievable and exhilarating turnaround, but the job wasn’t done as the Dragons hit back with less than ten to go," reads the passage in the Book of Feuds.
“But again it was the boot of Sandow that proved the difference, as the ball bounced into touch from the kickoff, giving us possession just 20 metres from the line.
"Two tries in the last five minutes capped off an unforgettable 34-24 victory, with centre Dylan Farrell bagging a hat-trick. It was just our second victory in Wollongong in over two decades, and the start of our resurgent dominance against the Red V."
With a crowd of almost 19,000 screaming people, and plenty of irate Dragons fans, it underlined what is so great about rugby league to Michael Crocker - the passion of the Members and supporters. He believes that rivalries, such as the Rabbitohs and Dragons, are essential in revving up the crowd which, in turn, revs up the players. Sporting rivalries, he says, are ingrained in Australian culture.
“The Dragons fans are very passionate and parochial and they always come to the games and rip into you. It adds to the atmosphere that you really love. Those rivalries are great for the game - they add to the theatre of it all. As a player you thrive off it; the bigger the crowd, the better the atmosphere and the more adrenaline you feel on the field. The Book of Feuds and rivalries go hand-in-hand with what sport means to Australians,” says Crocker.
For Dylan, it was a pretty special win that he’ll always look back on fondly:
“Once it was finished it was a massive relief. To go over to the hill where I had 25 family members there was really awesome,” said Farrell.