There were 13 Rabbitohs standing on Leichhardt Oval on a cold Wednesday night in 1981. Behind those 13 Rabbitohs were 23,000 screaming fans. Among those screaming fans were dozens of South Sydney legends, from former winger Johnny "Whacka" Graves to Clive Churchill to Bob McCarthy and John Sattler. All those legends were there to inspire those 13 Rabbitohs to claim victory in the Tooth Cup Final against the Cronulla Sharks.
The team had scraped into the quarter-finals on for and against before beating Manly in an exciting 24-13 semi-final before making their way to Leichhardt Oval to face the Cronulla Sharks - the winner would take a $100,000 prize back to their club.
They trained both nights before the lead-up to the Final, but coach Bill Anderson had a plan to give his side an edge in the encounter with Cronulla. He put out a rallying call to all the former South Sydney champions.
Bob McCarthy flew down from Brisbane, Johnny "Whacka" Graves, John O'Neill, Les 'Chicka' Cowie, Bernie Purcell, Gary Stevens, Ernie Hammerton, Brian James, Clive Churchill and Bobby Grant, among many others, all converged on the South Sydney League's Club.
They sat individually with the 17 Rabbitohs named in Anderson's side and told them stories of winning, encouraged them and gave advice. The pack of former and current South Sydney Rabbitohs all travelled together from the League's club to Leichhardt Oval. Anderson's men were inspired to become kings for the night.
It worked. The Rabbitohs played brilliantly on that night in August, earning a hard-fought 10-2 victory over the Sharks after being level 2-all at halftime. Thousands of supporters stormed the field after the results, exuberantly chanting "Souths, Souths, Souths!".
Rugby League commentator Ray Warren called it the "highlight of the season" after witnessing the enthralling battle.
"They put the "knockers" in their right place with a match I will long remember," wrote Warren.
"It was the highlight of the season so far - the ground was overflowing, there were spectators at every possible vantage point and they were still trying to get in after the game had well and truly started.
"I have to go back to 1976 when Balmain played Norths to think of a Cup Final that got anywhere near this one - an absolute crackerjack of a match."
It was disarray at Leichhardt after the victory - Red and Green streamers flew everywhere, thousands of people were dancing all over the ground, beer flowed in the dressing rooms while two Scottish pipers marched through the celebrating players.
"This is like the good old days," Johnny "Whacka" Graves said after the match
Match report supplied by Michael Curin
South Sydney, rugby league's favourite team breathed life back into the code at Leichhardt Oval with a magnificent 10-2 win over Cronulla in the Tooth Cup final.
In a match of fantastic defence, Souths and Cronulla waged an end-to-end battle of mastery and the first prize money of $100,000. It was a night when the tradition of South Sydney proved to be unbeatable.
Cronulla nearly grabbed the match in the second quarter, when a goal attempt by Steve Rogers hit the upright and cannoned back into the field of play. Following up fast, the Cronulla centre, Chris Gardner, actually had the ball in his hands until Souths winger, Mark Ross, came across and stole the ball. There were other near misses by Cronulla when they applied pressure with some deadly accurate bombs and some fearless running by Paul Khan and Kurt Sorensen.
But Souths came through, a little shaken probably, but defiant. And when it came their turn, they gave Cronulla plenty to worry about with Gary Hambly, Peter Tunks, Gary Metcalfe and Charlie Frith, all having big games.
After a see-sawing first half, when the scores were locked at 2-all at half-time, Souths broke through in the decisive third quarter when the fullback Steve Walsh made a split-second decision to go himself from dummy-half and score a great individual try in the 50th minute, which Mark Ross converted. Peter Tunks also scored a try with three minutes left on the clock to seal the final.
There were heroes in each dressing room, with Steve Walsh deservedly winning the man-of-the-match award (worth $1,350) for a splendid performance of decisive running and some fine takes of bombs. Mitch Brennan, whose try against Manly in last Wednesday's semi-final earned him the Volvo station wagon (worth $18,600), did some fine things, including two great tackles in the tense second quarter. Cronulla captain, Steve Rogers, was voted man-of-the-series and deservedly won the European holiday prize.
Among the crowd were former players who answered Souths' rallying call and were assigned a player each to sit with and talk to on their way from South Sydney League's Club to Leichhardt Oval, and at each quarter. They included Bob McCarthy, who came down from Brisbane, John O'Neill, Les 'Chicka' Cowie, Bernie Purcell, Gary Stevens, Ernie Hammerton, Brian James, Clive Churchill and Bobby Grant ... to name only a few.
It was a night when the tradition of South Sydney proved to be unbeatable and there were unforgettable scenes at the finish when thousands of fans invaded the ground and started chanting "Souths . . . Souths . . . Souths."
The Tooth Cup was here to stay after Tooth and Co. agreed to renew their sponsorship of the competition for 1982-83 with an option for a further three years. The giant brewery was extremely delighted with the magnificent final and then announced they will spend in excess of $2 million on the competition over the next five years.
South Sydney 10 (S.Walsh, P.Tunks tries; M.Ross 2 goals)
Cronulla‐Sutherland 2 (S.Rogers goal) at Leichhardt Oval, Wednesday night, August 12, 1981 (7.30pm).
Crowd: 23,079 (Record). Referee: John Gocher. Touch Judges: Peter Longhurst, George Benson. Halftime: 2‐all. Scrums: Cronulla 14‐12. Penalties: Souths 13‐11. Goalkickers: Ross (Souths) 2/4, Rogers (Cronulla) 1/2.
SOUTHS: Steve Walsh; Mark Ross, Mitch Brennan (c), Robert Simpkins, Ziggy Niszczot; Micheal Pattison, Graham Murray; Nathan Gibbs, Peter Tunks, Gary Metcalfe, Charlie Frith, Ken Stewart, Gary Hambly. Replacements: Tony Rampling (for Frith), Joe Squadrito (for Pattison), Greg Mackey (for Murray), Mario Fenech (not used). Coach: Bill Anderson.
CRONULLA: Mick Mullane; John Jarvie, John Berne, Chris Gardner, Rick Bourke; Mark Wakefield, Perry Haddock; Steve Rogers (c), Kurt Sorensen, David Hatch, Rex Williams, Rowland Beckett, Paul Khan. Replacements: Gavin Miller (for Wakefield), Steve Hansard (for Haddock), Ossie Welsh (for Berne), David Laming (not used). Coach: Greg Pierce.
National Panasonic Man of the match: Steve Walsh (Souths).
Man of the Series (European holiday): Steve Rogers (Cronulla).
Try of the Series (Volvo station wagon): Mitch Brennan (Souths).
16 min: South Sydney 2‐0 (Ross goal)
39 min: 2‐all (Rogers goal)
50 min: South Sydney 7‐2 (Walsh try; Ross goal)
77 min: South Sydney 10‐2 (Tunks try)