Heading into Round 7 of the 2007 season, the South Sydney Rabbitohs had one thing in mind – to give David Peachey a victory worth celebrating – to honour his 250th NRL game in style.
Peachey, a State of Origin fullback and proud Indigenous Australian, had arrived in Redfern the previous season. He immediately lifted spirits with his drive, leadership and a wealth of experience gathered through all of the glorious triumphs and hard knocks that his career had thrown at him.
After 232 appearances for the Cronulla Sharks, Peachey earned every ounce of respect it took to command the sheds and, on a day to applaud everything he had given to the sport of Rugby League, his teammates in Red and Green were ready to deliver.
The opponents on that April afternoon were the New Zealand Warriors; a club notorious for their party-crashing antics on the field. No matter the circumstances, they’ve always been able to turn around a result in their favour, particularly against us.
From our re-instatement in 2002, the Warriors were undefeated against us, managing some huge score lines and dramatic triumphs. For all the scars of the past, this time there was extra motivation. the Rabbitohs were playing for Peachey.
Rabbitohs then co-owner Peter Holmes à Court, talking in the documentary South Side Story, said: “One of the things I can consider myself very lucky for is having worked and known great Aboriginal leaders in this country, great Aboriginal artists and great Aboriginal sportsman."
“David Peachey is all three of those. As a sportsman, 250 games in this competition is an incredible achievement.”
The Club's resurgence under Russell Crowe and Holmes à Court‘s new ownership group in 2007 had an immediate effect on on-field results for the Cardinal and Myrtle.
Bagging four wins from a possible six, the Red and Green were defying expectation in their first year of privatisation and were confident they could finally break the long-standing drought of losses against the men from across the ditch.
Fullback Peachey, knew in the first few games of that season that the foundation Club had found their bit between the teeth.
“The beginning of the season was a real whirlwind,” Peachey told South Side Story.
“The pre-season was tough and we felt it needed to be just from what had happened in the past."
“The new conditioners and trainers really (worked us) and I think the way we started the season in the first three games you could feel something special is happening here at South Sydney.”
One thing that had to be lingering in the minds of Souths players as they ran out to face the Warriors was what happened when the two sides met in 2006. The Rabbitohs were utterly humiliated. The Warriors inflicted the heaviest defeat in our illustrious 110-year history, 66-0. Wounds like that cannot heal overnight.
“It was a bit unbelievable to tell you the truth,” said Rabbitohs centre Beau Champion.
“You don’t go to the football, especially a home game, and experience what happened that day, I think by half time it was around about 30 to 36 nil.
“Usually when that happens in the second half the winning team usually dies off a bit and the trailing side picks up but that just didn’t happen and kept continuing. It was a pretty embarrassing time for the Club.”
It was actually 32-0 at half-time, but the advantage was so significant, we can forgive Champion for losing count. Peachey was not prepared to allow Souths to be degraded in such a way again, and neither were his teammates. The Rabbitohs needed to show the Warriors what they were made of, and this was the day to do it.
Despite being dominated throughout the first half, Souths trailed 8-4 at half-time after a stubborn defensive display, which then Rabbitohs assistant coach Mark Ellison was extremely impressed with.
“We were third on the ladder at the time, which was unfamiliar territory for us,” Ellison explained.
“Part of the reason for that was our defence. That was one of our biggest focus areas back then and in that season we only conceded an average of 16 points a game.”
A former Souths junior playing for the Warriors, Todd Byrne, recalled the frustration in the visitors' sheds.
“We led at half-time but we had a few decisions go against us, we had one or two tries disallowed so a few of the guys were getting a bit angry,” said Byrne.
“Ivan [Cleary], who was such a great man manager and coach, calmed everyone down. I think the only one he didn’t calm down was Wade McKinnon who was former Souths guy.
As the game ebbed and flowed throughout the second half the breakthrough finally came with the 2006 leading try scorer, Nathan Merritt, snatching an intercept and running 80 metres to score.
When David Fa’alogo scored five minutes later it looked like the Rabbitohs had finally broken the drought but the great masters of the late turnaround still had a few tricks up their sleeves, even with only a few minutes left on the clock.
It would be the fired-up McKinnon who brought the Warriors back into the match, breaking clear of the defence before evading the last tackle to score under the posts.
“We were motivated to win, and back at that time you didn’t really score two tries in three minutes, but Wade McKinnon scored a magical try,” added Byrne.
“Coming back we thought if we just get the ball in hands we are half a chance.”
With Souths now clinging on to a 16-14 advantage, the game was left hanging in the balance with the clock ticking into the final minute.
“We got a scrum about 40 or 50 metres out with a minute to go, or not even that, ” explained Byrne.
“I remember Ruben [Wiki] took the ball up and popped an offload. I’d played with Shannon [Hegarty, the South Sydney Rabbitohs centre] for many years so I knew that Souths’ defence was usually up and in, so that means their outside guys are getting off their line and getting in our face.
“So, when Ruben got the offload away, their first instinct was to get up in our face, and I remember looking at Michael Witt and knowing how good a kicker he was. He was so good at putting weight on the ball, and I was really flat because I was up with the attacking line, and I was right on the sideline and I just pointed to the ground.
“Witty put this kick in and I remember just running as fast as I could, and in slow motion the ball just rolled end over end, and just as it got to the try line. It just sat up.
“It was one of those days I could actually run decently and pretty smoothly. I just remember charging down the sideline hearing the screams and putting the ball down and running back to the team.
“It was just one of those moments in football when you get five to ten seconds of pure magic and it was fantastic feeling.”
The former Souths junior, who had always dreamed of pulling on the Cardinal and Myrtle, had come back to haunt the Rabbitohs on that eerie April afternoon. The home side were deflated. Few were more heart broken than Peachey.
“It was a lesson for us moving forward that we had to play for 80 minutes and we worked on that for the rest of the season,” explained Ellison.
While the Rabbitohs were unable to give Peachey a deserved victory in his milestone appearance, the match proved to be a turning point in the Club’s fortunes against the Warriors.
“It was great to recognise a legend of the game and what David Peachey has meant to a lot of people,” said Rabbitohs Media Manager Jeremy Monahan.
“He hadn’t been at our club long and he made a real impression on people. Obviously we are renowned for being an Indigenous club and his standing within the Indigenous community was huge. It was still great that we were part of that milestone.”
Since the bruises of that fateful day, South Sydney has never looked back. We have won seven of 10 contests against the Warriors since, including a six-match winning streak which is still alive.
A never-say-die attitude was forged and the tide has turned our way. We never quite got over the line for Peachey on the day, but we’ve carried him with us ever since.