'The Link' by Ian Heads

'The Link' by Ian Heads

Legendary Rugby League journalist Ian Heads once wrote of the great combination between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Aboriginal community. His 2007 piece is still very relevant today.

The link that exists between South Sydney Rugby League Club - the famous Rabbitohs, The Pride of the League' - and the Aboriginal community of the district goes back so far it is almost lost in the mists of time.

It has been a wonderful and mutually beneficial partnership through 76 seasons and maybe longer.

Over the years the Club has been, season by season, a provider of opportunity for young Aboriginal players and in turn the ranks of the countless talented Indigenous players, who have answered the call have been a continual boost to the Red and Green cause, adding verve and excitement to the playing style of the Rabbitohs.

The stories of champion Aboriginal players are dotted through the history of the club.

The beginning of one of the great symbiotic relationships of Rugby League came, perhaps, in 1930 - the season when the Redfern All Blacks Club was formed.

The records and stories of that club tell of enthusiastic and fruitful recruitment in rural districts in early years - and especially in such places as Kempsie, Walgett and south Queensland.

Legendary names dot the ranks, the likes of Ambrose Morgan and Tony and Mick Mundine. It is a story dotted with many trophies and much success, the Club has been a small but vitally important nursery for Souths over the years.

The tradition of Aboriginal players donning the famous red and green jumper and heading into battle in the name of South Sydney can be traced back to that club.

In seasons 1938-39 a fullback named Dick Johnson, who came from the small town of Currabubula was, very likely the first Aboriginal to play first grade with Souths and a genuine star of his time, good enough to play for NSW in both of his seasons with the Club.

Since the 1950s when men such as Charlie Donovan and then Eric Robinson played with distinction at Redfern, Souths have probably never been without Aboriginal players through the grades.

Champions have emerged and players of character and rare talent have been dotted the ranks.

Johnson, Donovan, Robinson, Eric Ferguson, David Grant, the Longbottoms, Graham Lyons, Tom Moylan, Les Biles, Buddy Kain, Tom Moylan, Darrell Trindall, Brad Webb, Claude Williams all the way to today's bearers of the flag such as Nathan Merritt, Buddy Gordon and Joe Williams.

There would be little (probably no!) dispute that the champion and dux of such a class would have to be the peerless goalkicker and fullback Eric Simms (1965-75) who moved with his family from Raymond Terrace to La Perouse when he was 14 and set about building a legendary rugby league career.

By the time he left Souths in 1976 he had broken countless records and accumulated 1841 first grade points for the club.

He is remembered as one of the great goal kickers of the game's history - and so proficient was he as a kicker of field goals as well in the late 1960s that the game's authorities eventually reduced the value of the field goal from two points to one (1971).

Therewith Simms at Souths in the early days of his career (1967-69) was one of the great characters and most spectacular long-range goalkickers the game had ever seen, Kevin 'Lummy' Longbottom. The sight of the burly Longbottom booting goals from half-way or beyond was a marvel of the era.

All the players mentioned here and many, many others added to the 'character' that has made the South Sydney Club so special down the years. The Souths tradition from the formation days early in the 20th century to play a spectacular 'running game' suited many quick-footed Indigenous players perfectly.

The sight of Nathan Merritt racing away for yet another try in his brilliant individual year of achievement (2006) recalls all of that.

Nathan worked wonders on the wing for the Rabbitohs of 2006. If, as seems likely, he finished at the head of the season's try-scoring list it will be a unique and extraordinary rugby league feat.

And for Souths, a club heading into a bright new era the tradition will continue.

Both groups - the rugby league Club and the Aboriginal community of the district -
look back with a deep sense of pride on the things achieved through more than 70 years of 'working together'. It is a story of harmony and opportunity presented and taken and of wonderful outcomes.

This side of the South Sydney story is one of the great ones of Australian sport - of different cultures working together seamlessly, as one, and of the sum being even greater than the two parts: i.e. thrilling football in the many years of Souths high achievement.

I am delighted to say the partnership survives and thrives and will as long as men wear the Cardinal and Myrtle of the most famous Rugby League Club of them all.

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