A Testament to Souths' Spirit
A raucous crowd of 16,233 packed into Redfern Oval to see the third placed South Sydney Rabbitohs take on competition leaders the Parramatta Eels in the Round 22 blockbuster of the 1982 season.
In a tough and unforgiving match, Souths trailed the Eels 15-7 with just seven minutes left to go. Up against the defending premiers, fan favourite Mark Ross put the win down to the passionate Redfern locals to get the side home.
Coming off the bench, Ross sparked the unlikely comeback after scoring a try from a Nathan Gibbs break to bring the deficit to three points. From there, the Rabbitohs rallied, buoyed from the cheering supporters, scored another try to opposite winger Stan Browne, and although Tony Melrose missed the conversion, five-eighth Ken Wright came to the rescue with his third field goal of the day to sink the Eels 16-15 in an absolute classic.
In just his second year of first grade with the Grand Old Club, Ross fondly looks back on the match against the juggernaut Eels side of the early 80's.
"I remember scoring against Parramatta, I had a good strike rate against them actually. I remember scoring a try and us winning the match," he said.
"Parramatta were in their premiership winning days. They had some big players back then and ended up winning the comp that year. For us to be coming third and to knock them off coming in first with that lead was a testimony to the South Sydney spirit."
With Redfern being the hallowed turf of the Rabbitohs, younger supporters might not understand the gravity that the atmosphere at the ground held back when the Club still hosted games, but Ross remembers how much of a difference the home advantage, along with that famous South Sydney spirit made.
"16,000 at Redfern would be like 100,000 anywhere else wouldn't it?! What a day. The crowd were great. In '82 we were a pretty strong side and at Redfern we were pretty much invincible," he chuckled.
"The fact was no one was going to leave Redfern without losing a bit of bark, that's for sure, and if they ever got out with a win they had to earn it.
We won a lot of close games off the back of the crowd, and our forwards were always tough and unrelenting. There wasn't much grass back on Redfern Oval back in the day and it was a tough place to play at."
One thing Ross certainly remembers back in his playing days in the 80s was the Parramatta side that featured plenty of superstars in their own right. That day Ross came up against opposition wingers Eric Grothe, one of the competition's superstars, and Neil Hunt, an old friend of his from his junior years.
Either way, Ross knew that he wasn't going to let his side down, coming up against a superstar Eels side.
"I marked up against Neil Hunt, who I played a lot of Australian Schoolboys football with. And of course there was Brett Kenny, Steve Ella and Michael Cronin." Ross said.
"Then there was Eric Grothe, the Guru. You had to get up on him and take time away from him and make sure he didn't put that big fend on you, and he was sort of like an edge backrower where he'd come looking for the ball and pop up anywhere.
"I wasn't on the small side either and I knew I had a bit of pace so I looked forward to those battles with Eric. He was such a great player, but I knew there was one thing, I had to take the time and space off him and to knock his fend down and not show any signs of intimidation because he'd run you over otherwise."
After departing to the Gold Coast after his six year career at Redfern, Ross still finds the time to catch up with his old teammates and opponents to reminisce about playing with the South Sydney spirit.
"Neil Hunt and I played a bit of football later on up on the Gold Coast together, same with Robert Simpkins and Tony Rampling," he said fondly.
"Those sort of guys live up on the Gold Coast and we bump into each other from time to time. There's reunions as well, which are a novelty to see all the boys. We've always got that underlining brotherhood when you play with and against each other at that level.
"I had a fantastic time at Redfern. Even though I played up on the Gold Coast and with Penrith, I'll always be Red and Green regardless."
Match report supplied by Michael Curin.
Ken Wright did not look like a rugby league hero as he stood shivering under a cold shower in the almost deserted dressing rooms at Redfern Oval. He was reinstated after being dropped earlier in the week, kicked the match-winning field goal from 30 meters out just 20 seconds from the end to give the Rabbitohs an incredible 16-15 win against the competition leaders.
Parramatta, after battling against a morale-sapping 16-6 penalty count for most of the match, stormed to a 15-7 lead with 11 minutes from the end. But, then Jack Gibson, the maestro of coaching in the Sydney premiership, made of the few tactical blunders of his career. He replaced three of his players – Eric Grothe, John Muggleton and Steve Sharp. And six minutes from time, with Parramatta still leading 15-12, Mick Cronin was also replaced.
"I did not make the changes for fun," Gibson said later. "Their tackle counts were down and I put fresh players into the game."
Gibson put tacklers into the game and Souths' coach Bill Anderson put on attacking players. It was the match-winning decision.
Seven minutes from the end, Nathan Gibbs, one of Souths' replacement players, sped down the blind side from dummy half to set up a try for another of the replacements in winger, Mark Ross. Then Souths worked play close to the Parramatta quarter line and Tony Melrose shaped to put up a bomb. Then Souths worked play close to the Parramatta quarter line and Tony Melrose shaped to put up a bomb.
Winger Stan Browne raced in from out wide, took Melrose's pass and crossed for a superb try. Melrose carefully lined up the kick that would have put Souths two points ahead. Souths' secretary could not watch and ran into the dressing room. The groans told him that Melrose had missed.
With the scores now at 15-all, Wright – who had kicked two field goals earlier – slid into position for a final attempt and successfully kicked his third field goal and give Souths a memorable victory.
Wright had pushed the disappointments of his first grade sacking out of his mind as he ran on to the field for the match that could decide his team's semi-finals fate.
Afterwards, Wright sat in the crowded Souths' dressing room with an ice bag on his left shoulder as he sipped a cold drink. He did not know who had passed him the ball that set him up in position for the match-winning field goal.
"I expected to get the ball a tackle earlier, but I think it was Kenny Stewart who decided to run it," Weight said. "The ball came to me from the next ruck and I really did not have any time. I heard the Parramatta players called out to watch me, but there was just enough space to get the ball into the air."
Souths led 6-3 at half-time, after a fine try by winger Ziggy Niszczot in the 20th minute, converted by Melrose. This was countered by a try to Parramatta's left-winger Neil Hunt. Wright then kicked his first field goal in the 38th minute to take Souths leading into the sheds.
For nine minutes, after Mick Cronin had landed two penalties, Parramatta led 7-6 until Wright levelled the scores with his second field goal after 19 minutes of the second half.
Then, two tries in three minutes, the first a bulldozing charge by Geoff Bugden and the second a great team try that ended with Eric Grothe scoring, lifted Parramatta to their 15-7 lead and apparent safety.
Souths emerged from the match with distinction, but Anderson took time to pay tribute to Parramatta. "We had a spread of 20 tackles at one stage and we hammered them in attack and put up bombs, but hey held. They are an outstanding team," he said.
But Gibson was in a sour mood. He was scathing in his criticism of referee Martin Weekes, who awarded Souths 16 penalties to six and missed a couple of blatant knock-ons.
When asked if Parramatta would make an official report on Weekes' refereeing, Gibson said: "What can you do officially? He received a bad report last week and the Appointments Board then named him as the number one referee for this round."
South Sydney 16 (Z.Niszczot, M.Ross, S.Browne tries; A.Melrose 2 goals; K.Wright 3 field goals)
Parramatta 15 (N.Hunt, G.Bugden, E.Grothe tries; M.Cronin 3 goals)