The Raiders were only three years old when they took the field on a Tuesday night in 1984 with designs on defeating a foundation club to secure a spot in the finals. As it would turn out that night, they weren’t ready for the big time. But, the emotion and intensity of that clash would ensure the Rabbitohs never treated the Raiders lightly from then on.
The Rabbitohs and Raiders both finished the 1984 season with 30 competition points and tied for 5th place. Consequently they were forced into a Tuesday play-off for a place in the finals; giving Souths only one day off after their gritty 29-14 win over the North Sydney Bears on the Sunday.
Kicking off just after 7pm at the SCG with 10,101 spectators watching on from the stands, neither team showed any fatigue from their short turnarounds as the contest heated up. An all-in brawl occurred when Raiders prop Gary Spears antagonised the Rabbitohs players with constant niggle in the rucks.
However, Neil Baker’s kicking game would separate the two teams as he kept the Raiders under constant pressure from repeat sets. Current Rabbitohs manager Mark Ellison was playing his first year in the Red and Green and remembers that time fondly; he scored a spectacular try from an in-goal diving catch off a Neil Baker chip kick.
Tries to fullback Bronco Djura, half Craig Coleman, winger Ross Harrington and Ellison’s special effort would seal a 23-4 win and Souths would progress to face Manly on the Saturday.
“We had a pretty young side back then. It was my first year in first grade,” remembers Ellison.
“We had the play-off with the Raiders at the Sydney Cricket Ground and for all us guys back then that was the Mecca of rugby league. That’s where we wanted to play and we had a good night.
“Because we played on Sunday it was pretty tough backing up on the Tuesday night so the preparation was very short. We had our few beers that we normally did on a Sunday night, then we got into training on Monday and we were ready for Tuesday.”
This is an extract from the Canberra Times dated Wednesday 29 August, 1984.
By Geoff Thomson
South Sydney will meet Manly Warringah in Saturday's NSW Rugby League elimination final at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Souths swept aside a lethargic Woodgers' Canberra Raiders in the play off for fifth position at the SCG last night winning 23-4.
The Raiders had no answer to the swarming Souths' defence and the kicking of five-eighth Neil Baker.
Baker repeatedly forced the Raiders to return to their own half where they were pinned down for long periods, particularly in the first half.
The dominance of Souths was underlined by their four tries to the Raiders' none.
The strong Souths' defence continually forced the ball carrier back into the forwards where he was easy pickings for the hard-working pack.
Souths made good ground in attack on most occasions and the failure of the Raiders' defence to put the ball carrier on the ground contributed to their downfall.
Both packs mixed it willingly in the opening 20 minutes when many cautions were handed out - but the heavy tackling took its toll and the fire died in the second half.
Raiders' halves Chris O'Sullivan and Ivan Henjak were well contained by their opposites, Baker and Craig Coleman, and this prevented the Raiders from mounting many attacks.
In a fiery opening, three penalties were handed out in quick succession against the Raiders. Prop Gary Spears was cautioned twice. Baker opened the scoring with a goal from the third penalty.
An all-in brawl developed when Spears received his second caution and the animosity continued as the teams felt each other out.
With Baker's kicking continually turning the Raiders around. Souths pressured the Canberra defence and were unlucky not to score when Darren McCarthy chased a kick by Baker, failing narrowly to ground the ball before it went over the dead-ball line.
Souths were able to maintain the pressure when Raiders' winger Billy Walker touched the ball before it went over the sideline. Souths won the scrum and full back Bronco Djura broke through two tackles wide out to score.
Baker failed to convert but Souths held a lead of 6-2. Ron Giteau had landed a penalty for the
Raiders and reduced the lead to 6-4 when he kicked another penalty shortly after.
Souths were not to be denied more points and when a quick kick-off went dead, got the ball back from the kick out. Half-back Coleman chipped over the top of the Raiders' defence and lock Mark Ellison dived full length to take the ball on the full and ground it for Souths' second try.
Baker converted and added a neat field goal two minutes before half time to give his side a commanding nine-point (13-4) lead at the break.
Raiders' coach Don Furner made two changes for the second half, bringing on full-back Steve O'Callaghan and second-rower Paul Elliott for Ron Sigsworth and Nigel Wilson. This stiffened the Raiders' defence but failed to produce any real spark in attack.
Both sides found the defence hard to breach in the first 20 minutes of the second half. With 15 minutes remaining Giteau opted to go for goal after Canberra had received a penalty but his kick from in front was waved away.
From the restart Coleman made a break for Souths, sprinting down centre field to the Raiders' 22m line where the run was halted.
The ball was swung wide from the play and Coleman was on hand to take the final pass and dive over the line.
Souths continued to press the Canberra defence and were rewarded with a try to winger Ross Harrington who, with 45 seconds remaining, barged his way over in the corner.