The greatest rivalry

FEATURE

The greatest rivalry

 

Played

Won 

Lost 

 Draw

For 

Against 

W% 

All Time 

240

123

109

8

3608

3688

51%

Finals

11

6

5

0

172

154

55%

Last 10 Years

21

9

12

0

471 (Avg 22 ppg)

451 (Avg 21 ppg)

43%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no greater rivalry in Rugby League than that between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Sydney (formerly Eastern Suburbs) Roosters. The only foundation clubs that remain in the NRL, more matches have been played between us than any other two clubs. The South Sydney District Rugby League Football Club was formed at a packed meeting held at the Redfern Town Hall on January 17, 1908. The Eastern Suburbs Club was formed at the Paddington Town Hall just a week later.

Right from the beginning, the rivalry was fierce. We met them twice in 1908, losing the first game 13-12 at the Sydney Agricultural Ground (on the site of the Entertainment Quarter). It was our only loss that year and we avenged it in the best possible way in the very first grand final, winning 14-12. Formed a week earlier than our local rivals, Souths had established superiority on the field as well.

Souths continued to dominate both Easts and the competition for some time. From 1925 until 1932 we won seven of a possible eight premierships, disposing of the tricolours in the 1928 and 1931 Grand Finals, despite finishing below them during the regular season.

Three times in the next seven years, Easts proved our nemesis as their superb team of the mid-'30s dominated the competition. And amazingly, their 19-10 victory at the SCG in August 1938 was the last time we would play them in a final for 76 years!

From 1939 until quite recently the two clubs seemed to take turns at success, with long periods of superiority alternating between them. 

The Roosters did play a significant part, however, in bringing about the end of our last golden era, and certainly contributed to our 43-year premiership drought. As we went into decline in the early '70s, they moved into the era of professionalism.

They were the first club to display a sponsor's name (City Ford) on their jumper and with the influx of cash the results soon followed.

In 1971 international winger Michael Cleary became the first of a long line of key players to move from Redfern to Bondi, followed by the great Ron Coote and Elwyn Walters, the last two being instrumental in the Roosters' back-to-back 1974-75 Premierships.

From 1978, however, we once again established a commanding superiority over our neighbours, winning 20 of the next 25 encounters despite the fact the Roosters continued to plunder our ranks. The only solace for Souths fans was that no matter how many players they poached from us and other clubs, the Roosters still struggled and we still mostly got the better of them.

That is, until the end of 1994. As the league world turned upside down in 1995 with the emergence of Super League, so too did Souths' fortunes. And as we battled to stay afloat amid the tumultuous whirlpool that engulfed the game, the Roosters seemed to take great delight in kicking us when we were down. Kicking us hard.

They beat us 13 times in a row, and for Souths fans it was sickening, but it got a whole lot worse. 

As if it wasn't bad enough that we were unceremoniously dumped from the competition in October 1999, the Roosters once again rubbed their very own brand of tricolour salt into our wounds. Already in deep shock as they faced the prospect of the 2000 season without their team, Rabbitoh fans then had to put up with the Roosters signing the most outstanding Souths junior for more than a decade, a player who had publicly stated he had, all his life, wanted to play his entire career at Souths: the majestic Craig Wing.

Then when we did get back into the competition in 2002, it was the Roosters who demanded we play our first game against them. And while it's true the result of that game didn’t matter as it was enough for us just to be back they seemed to enjoy smacking us 40-6, and then again, 42-6, in the return game later that year.

We lost the next five matches we played against them but the margins began to shrink as we started to drag the pendulum back. And then the planets aligned on a wonderful, warm evening at Aussie Stadium in August 2005. It was the night our fans unveiled a mighty banner which covered nearly an entire bay, proclaiming to the world that the Roosters were: “Forever ln Our Shadow”.

Despite falling behind 12-0 early, we clawed our way back thanks to halfback Ben Walker, who led the charge. With four minutes to go, he calmly piloted a drop kick straight over the black dot for a 17-16 victory that had been 11 years coming.

The Roosters didn't take kindly to losing that night. The next time we lined up against them, in the first match of 2006, we were leading 18-12 and doing it well when Walker was smashed by Roosters prop Adrian Morley, tearing his cruciate ligament while falling, unconscious, to the ground. The Roosters scored three tries in the next 10 minutes to win the game. Walker was out for six weeks and lost his confidence for four months. Just like Walker, our season was out cold.

In 2007, once again we opposed them in the opening round, on a Monday evening at Aussie Stadium. On a night when pretty much everything went right, we had their measure from the beginning, leading 12-0 at halftime and going on with it in the second half. Nigel Vagana bagged two tries and man-of-the-match Joe Williams scored one as we got the money 18-6. And from there to the final round of 2007, on a Saturday night at Telstra Stadium, when a crowd of more than 32,000 gathered to celebrate the Rabbitohs qualifying for the finals for the first time in 18 years.

Not only did the Roosters spoil our party by beating us 26-12, but the end of the match exploded in controversy as Souths second-rower David Fa' alogo reacted to a tackle by getting to his feet and smashing Roosters five-eighth Braith Anasta in the mouth. Fa'alogo was suspended for seven weeks and missed our long awaited semi-final.

Round 1 of the 2008 season was another night filled with plenty of anticipation that turned sour quickly. The prodigal son, Craig Wing, who had spent the last eight seasons in Roosters colours had finally returned to Souths. Unfortunately for the man of the moment, his night ended early as hooker Riley Brown crashed into his shoulder from behind as he was held up by two defenders. The hit, branded a “cheap shot” by most who witnessed it, resulted in Wing needing a shoulder reconstruction and a three-month stint on the sidelines. We lost the match 34-20, and to make matters worse, the demoralising loss set us on a path of losing ten of our first eleven matches, eventually finishing third last, while the Roosters finished in the top four.

In our first round of 2009 we took on the Roosters at the SFS, after they had made the top four the previous season, with us coming 14th in a very forgettable year. But this match could not have been more memorable for the Souths faithful, as our team fired to a 52-12 demolition of our oldest foe. The Chooks had been plucked, and we racked up our biggest win over them in 57 years. Later that year we beat them again comprehensively 40-20 and they ended up picking up the wooden spoon.

Few fans could forget the twin thrillers of 2012.

In the first game of the season, it looked as though we had secured our first win under new coach Michael Maguire, as we led 20-12 with less than two minutes left. The Roosters scored a soft try through prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, closing the margin to two points, and in the final seconds, second rower Boyd Cordner dribbled a hopeful grubber through the line, which was picked up by Anthony Minichiello who scored under the posts, to give them a 24-20 win. It was a loss that left Souths fans in disbelief, but motivated the team to better themselves throughout the season.

Fast forward to Round 19 and we were flying high in the top four while the Roosters lingered at the bottom of the ladder.

It was a night of milestones as the tricolours were celebrating their captain – and Souths junior – Braith Anasta’s 250th NRL match, while our very own Greg Inglis was playing his 150th match in the top grade. ‘GI’ would have the first say of the match as he broke through the line and sent Nathan Merritt over after just five minutes. The Roosters struck back, but Merritt’s wing partner Andrew Everingham crossed, giving us a 12-4 lead at the break.

In the second half the Roosters came out a different side, scoring three tries to give them a 22-12 lead with just five minutes to spare. But the never-say-die attitude of the Rabbitohs shone brightly that night. As brightly as it ever had.

With two minutes to go Nathan Merritt crossed again after a slick passage of play across field. The Rabbitohs were four points down with just fifty seconds on the clock and the atmosphere in the stadium was electric as the red and green faithful prayed for a miracle. 

Anasta kicked the ball off to John Sutton, who offloaded to David Taylor. The hulking forward, sent his second rower partner Chris McQueen through a gap bringing the crowd, screaming, to their feet. ‘Lightning’ McQueen sprinted to halfway and linked up with Merritt, who ran away and found hooker Issac Luke 25 metres out from the line.

With the defence closing in, and just ten metres out, Luke turned around mid-tackle and threw a Hail Mary pass behind his body. For what felt like an eternity, the ball hung up in the air, before bouncing into the arms of rookie halfback Adam Reynolds, who scuttled to the line and dived over next to the posts.

The stands went absolutely ballistic, and players were running around as if we’d won the comp, with commentator Warren Smith screaming his now-immortalised words “You can take me now…I have seen it all!” Reynolds kicked the conversion to seal a famous 24-22 victory, and we went on to make the top four for the first time since 1989, killing the Roosters finals hopes in the process.

The 2013 off-season saw the Roosters go on yet another spending spree, signing half James Maloney, Test centre Michael Jennings and one of the biggest superstars in modern sport: Sonny Bill Williams.

Once more the season kicked off with the local derby, where we sent the Chooks crashing back down to earth with a dominant 28-10 win. The Roosters would recover from that, and in Round 26 we found ourselves fighting for the Minor Premiership in front of nearly 60,000 punters at ANZ Stadium.

Things were running smoothly as both Greg Inglis and fan-favourite Jason Clark helped us to a 12-10 lead at halftime, but the Tri-colours ran away with a 24-12 win, lifting the JJ Giltinan shield in front of our home fans. A month later they returned to ANZ to claim their 13th Premiership, which was extremely hard to watch for any diehard Rabbitoh. But Rugby League is a funny game, and we would have to wait just twelve months for the pendulum to swing back our way, this time bringing the sweetest revenge of all.   

Once again our arch enemies took out the Minor Premiership, while we sat comfortably in the top four. We met in our first finals match since 1938 in the 2014 preliminary final in front of 53,000 at ANZ Stadium.

The Burrow faithful flew a banner reading “What we do in life echoes in eternity. Your time is now. Become legends”, which appropriately echoed the words of Russell Crowe in his famous speech in Gladiator. And the South Sydney players did just that.

The nerves of our gladiators were apparent early though, as the Roosters struck twice to open up a 12-0 lead after just seven minutes. There was a sense of déjà vu from the year before, when we lost the Preliminary Final to Manly, but we returned serve with two tries just before half time to level the scores.

We shot out of the blocks in the second half, as second rower Ben Te’o bulldozed over in a game-changing try, dragged two defenders over the line, jumping up and celebrating like an absolute mad man.

Greg Inglis etched his name in the history books as he scored our next two tries, diving over the line for his first, and taking an AFL-like mark off an Adam Reynolds bomb for his second. Having trailed 12-0, we had clocked up 32 unanswered points. The red and green army in the stands could barely believe what they were watching. 

Although the Roosters crossed twice in the last five minutes, it didn’t matter in the slightest. The match finished 32-22, destroying their hopes of going back-to-back. We were going to the Big Dance for the first time in 43 years, and we had smashed the Roosters to get there. 

It simply doesn’t get any better than that.

Well, maybe it does. The next week the Provan-Summons trophy was taken from Bondi and brought back to Redfern. Back to where it belonged.

 

And it REALLY doesn’t get any better than that!

Since then we’ve had some classic matches against the Roosters. In Round 2 of 2015 we stole a 34-30 victory through a last minute try to Issac Luke. In the opening round of the next year we blew them off the park 42-10 in an absolute masterclass from Adam Reynolds. Since then though, they’ve had the better of us, winning the last three encounters.

There’s no doubt about it, this is a rivalry for the ages. There’s just something about the Roosters that just irritates the hell out the Rabbitohs. And vice versa.

They (of course) claim to be the only foundation club to have played every season. It seems there's nothing they do that isn't in some way aimed at us, or at imitating us. They have changed their name twice to try and capture the inner city market. Yet, try as they might, there's no escaping the cold hard facts that South Sydney was formed before Eastern Suburbs, has won far more premierships than Easts, Sydney City and Sydney Roosters combined, and has a much greater junior and fan base. In the end it comes down to the souls of the two clubs.

Although they are indeed a foundation club, somewhere along the way the Roosters lost their soul. They simply don't have the tradition, the stories or the romance that is South Sydney.

Nevertheless, for more than 30 years, the Roosters had it pretty much their own way. Professionalism. Sponsorship. The big end of town. We had to watch it all green with envy. But, despite the agony we felt just a couple of months ago with the signing of boom forward Angus Crichton by the Roosters for 2019, that kind of dominance is over now. 

The Roosters won't ever surrender to us without one hell of a fight, though. To beat them takes more than our bodies, more than our hearts, and more than our minds. To beat them requires that we commit our souls to the spirit of the cardinal and myrtle: the creed of the Rabbitoh.

That's how it's been for a hundred and ten years, and that's how it is now. It's time to forge another era of superiority over the Roosters and to show them, again, that they are truly, indisputably, just like the banner says: “Forever In Our Shadow”.