Arrogance and Contempt
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Rugby league has been played in the western suburbs of Sydney since the earliest days of the game. Indeed, Cumberland was a foundation club in 1908 but only lasted one season.
For nearly four decades after that, the west of Sydney was represented by the Western Suburbs club and, despite initial moves to include a Parramatta team as early as 1936, it wasn't until 1947 that they were admitted, along with Manly Warringah, into the then 10-team NSWRL competition.
1947 was also a significant year for South Sydney. Firstly, because it saw us emerge from our worst ever two-year period, which included just a single victory in 1945 and none at all in 1946; and secondly, because of the signing, late in the season, of a young fullback from Newcastle named Clive Churchill. We first met Parramatta in the second week of the 1947 season at the Sydney Sports Ground (on the site of Allianz Stadium) and ran out easy 35-22 winners. Even though the Eels won just three matches and finished last that year, our second match was a tight one, with no tries scored and Souths winning 6-2 at Cumberland Oval.
For many years Parramatta struggled to make any impression on the competition, taking the wooden spoon nine times in their first 15 seasons. Despite this, they occasionally managed to beat the Rabbitohs, even during our second golden era, which brought five premierships in the six years from 1950 to 1955.
In 1949 we were minor premiers before losing the Grand Final but only managed to beat Parramatta 26-22 in the first round before losing the return encounter 14-13 in a cliffhanger at Cumberland. The following year we lost just four games and won the premiership; Parramatta won only three and finished second last, yet they still managed to lower our colours 16-12 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
From 1964 we had their measure for nine years, winning 16 games out of 18, including the only time we have met them in a finals match, in 1965. On the verge of greatness, Souths finished fourth and met the Eels, who finished a point in front of them, in the minor semi-final. In front of nearly 55,000 fans, we triumphed 17-2, with the list of scorers that day giving an indication of what was to come. Michael Cleary scored two tries, Arthur Branighan got one and Eric Simms landed four goals.
Parramatta never threatened during our last golden era, 1967-1971, but as our fortunes declined in the 1970s, the Eels rose to prominence. Parramatta became the geographical centre of Sydney and the emergence of the Eels was mirrored by the growth of a fanatical fan base - the "blue and gold army". Meanwhile, our own fans, for the first time in years, began to experience the pain of following a losing team.
During the mid to late 1970s, as Souths bumped along near the bottom of the competition, two matches against the Eels, in particular, caused us great heartache. 1977 was a dismal year for the Rabbits, the lowest point in quite a few low points being a 43-2 shellacking at Penrith Park in round 15.
During the following week coach John O' Neill asked for assistance from supercoach Jack Gibson as the team prepared for the home game against Parramatta, who led the competition. On a miserably cold July day at Redfern, the Rabbitohs played inspired football to lead 20-12 well into the second half before the Eels came storming back to hit the front 24-20 with just a couple of minutes to go.
But Souths wouldn't quit and, when hooker George Piggins burrowed over from dummy-half, the match hung in the balance 24-23 as diminutive centre Brian "Bubsy" Wall lined up the touchline conversion. The full-time siren went as he steadied for the kick and the Rabbitohs faithful held their breath but, alas, it went wide. The red and green diehards trudged out into the gloomy, freezing afternoon and we didn't win another game all year.
The following year, with Gibson now head coach, Souths fortunes took a considerable turn for the better. We were in with a chance of making the semis until a series of heartbreakingly tight losses late in the year saw us drop out of the "top five". We still had a chance though, if we could win our final two games - against Parramatta and the hapless North Sydney. However, in a frightful match in round 21, the Eels went berserk at Redfern Oval, smashing us 50-10, and any hopes of making the finals went up in smoke.
During the early '80s, Parramatta was blessed with a freak backline boasting names such as Sterling, Kenny, Cronin, Ella and Grothe and finally broke through for their first Premiership in 1981. They won the title again the following year, but along the way, they played us twice and both matches became classics. We got away to a flyer in 1982, winning five from the first seven matches before coming up against Parramatta at Belmore Oval. The Eels had won six in a row and it was a genuine top-of-the-table clash. The tension grew as a game of extremely high quality unfolded. Scores were close all the way, with the young Rabbitohs taking it right to the premiers.
With less than 10 minutes left, tiny Souths five-eighth Ken Wright burst through on Souths side of halfway and roared into open space. When he got to Parramatta fullback Steve McKenzie, Wright unleashed a sidestep of biblical proportions, at speed. McKenzie didn't even make contact and Wright scored under the posts to seal a magnificent 16-10 victory.
The Rabbitohs' season faltered in the second half of that year and, once again, a game against Parramatta at Redfern looked to be our last shot at scraping into the semis. More than 16,000 people crammed into Redfern and Souths once more rose to the occasion. In a titanic struggle, we led 7-5 into the last 10 minutes, courtesy of a converted try from popular winger Ziggy Niszczot and two field goals from Wright. Despite the fact the match had been unbearably tense, no one could have predicted the drama to come. Firstly, Parramatta scored two tries in three minutes to skip away 15-7, and it looked all over. But when Souths winger Mark Ross scored and Tony Melrose converted for 15-12, hopes of a miracle were rekindled.
On the attack again, Melrose faked to put up a bomb and passed inside to flying winger Stan Browne, who raced over next to the posts to level it at 15-all. There was pandemonium on the Redfern hill as Melrose lined up the simple conversion to win the game, only to spray it to the left of the posts. But still, it wasn't over. Replacement second-rower Nathan Gibbs made a long break from the kick-off and, in the final play of the match, Wright kicked his third field goal. The Rabbitohs had somehow managed a Houdini-like 16-15 victory in an unforgettable match. The Eels only lost five games all year in winning their second straight premiership and two of them were against us.
In fact, Parramatta had trouble with us throughout the 1980s. We beat them once in their Premiership year of 1983, again in 1984 when they were runners-up, again in 1985 and had a win and a draw in 1986, when they again won the Premiership.
Although we didn't add to our record 20 premierships during the late 1980s, the Souths team from that era was certainly a great one. In 1989 we lost the first match of the year and then hit on a rich vein of form, winning the next 11 matches to equal the record run of the 1955 Premiership team. In round 13 at Parramatta Stadium, however, it all looked to be coming undone as the Eels raced to a 16-6 lead inside half an hour.
Yet the Souths forwards, led by captain Mario Fenech and driven relentlessly onwards by half Craig Coleman, gradually took control. A try to Fenech just before halftime and one to lock Michael Andrews just after the break levelled the score at 16-all. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the match, though, was a bone-crunching, back-slamming, one-on-one tackle by Souths stand-in fullback Mark Ellison on runaway Parramatta winger Michael Erickson when he seemed certain to score. In the end, we ran out comfortable 24-16 winners to set a record 12-match winning streak for the club.
The 1980s was Parramatta's decade and, with the success of four Premierships, a certain arrogance seemed to grow within the club's culture. With CEO Denis Fitzgerald apparently believing that a team as good as the early '80s Eels would simply re-appear, and with money pouring in from their mega leagues club, they seemed to think that success was automatic. But they went into decline in the 1990s and we continued our dominance over them until 1995, even though our own fortunes were less than satisfactory.
From the start of 1996, though, we entered a nine-year period without a single win over the Eels. And while this losing streak included some very dark days, none illustrated the arrogance and lack of empathy of the Parramatta club under Fitzgerald more than the final game of the 1999 season.
With the culling of the competition just around the corner, the News Limited media barking about Souths likely exclusion became deafening. It was against this backdrop that Parramatta, riding high at the top of the table and under no threat of expulsion themselves, had the hide to market the final match of the regular season as "the last ever Souths Parramatta clash".
It certainly was a day of overwhelming drama. The Rabbitohs, under siege from all sides and with a massive injury toll, played above themselves and held the Eels to 10-all at halftime, despite conceding a try from a pass so far forward it could have been from an NFL game. Yet, just as the forces of the combined media and NRL speculation had derailed our season, the might of the Parramatta team overcame us in the second half, running away with the match 34-16. As Souths fans fought with the emotion of knowing this was possibly the last time they would ever watch their beloved team play, Parramatta 's arrogance and "stuff you" mentality reigned supreme, with taunts from the crowd turning the afternoon into an absolute nightmare.
In the weeks and months that followed, there was no respectful silence from the Parramatta CEO either, as we fought our exclusion from the competition we helped found. No, Fitzgerald was an outspoken supporter of the NRL exclusion process and a loud opponent of our campaign to be readmitted.
We did, of course, get back in but it took a fair while until we got much joy against the Eels, particularly on trips to Parramatta Stadium. In our first five seasons back in the competition, we tasted victory only once, in the second week of the 2005 season, finally ending our 9-year losing streak against the Eels with a superb 49-26 victory at Aussie Stadium. Winger Luke McDougall scored three tries in the first half for us to lead 28-16 at the break and we went right on with it in the second half. Two tries to Bryan Fletcher, and tries to Lee Hookey, Ashley Harrison and David Fa'alogo topped of a fantastic day in the sun.
Early in 2007, we notched up another glorious win. Nathan Merritt and Paul Mellor both scored in the first half for a 12-6 lead at the break, and it only got better from there. Merritt crossed in the comer just after halftime following a superb chip over the defence when completely hemmed in on the sideline.
Tries to Fa'alogo and Nigel Vagana added further polish and we ended up cruising to a 31-6 win. In 2009, we met them in Round 11; Parramatta lingering in 13th position with just three wins all season, Souths still in the running for the finals and buoyed by a sensational last play of the match win against the Tigers the previous week.
The momentum from the Tigers victory seemed to flow forward as tries to Michael Crocker and Nathan Merritt had us up by ten points after 15 minutes. But then fullback Luke Capewell dropped an absolute sitter and the Eels scored through Jarryd Hayne to close the gap to six at the half-time. Just two minutes after the break Hayne was at it again as he put Eric Grothe Jnr over for a four-pointer.
Not to be deterred, Capewell made up for his howler in the 52nd minute as he dummied through the line to score, and with Craig Wing nailing the conversion, we were back out to a 16-8 lead. The pendulum swung back their way, though, and Hayne poked his nose through to score with fifteen minutes left, before a Luke Burt penalty evened the scores at 16-all, and sent the game into Golden Point extra time.
With the rain and wind bucketing down on the ANZ turf, Hayne hit the crossbar with a field goal attempt and Burt also missed. Back in possession, we made our way downfield before an Eels error right in front of the sticks gave us a scrum feed with just seconds remaining. With the Rabbitohs set for a final field goal shot to win the game, referee Brett Suttor blew fulltime before halfback Craig Wing could pick up the ball out of the scrum. Souths fans were livid with the decision, and even the Channel 9 commentary team were baffled, with Phil Gould uttering his famous 'No, no, no, no, no!'
That was our last ever draw in an NRL gam, and a terrible ending to an otherwise winnable match. The Eels went on a golden run that year with Hayne winning the Dally M and taking his team to the Grand Final. Our year on the other hand stuttered and stalled, eventually ending in a 10th place finish.
The next year we got a little revenge, and it tasted very sweet. We met in Round 25 at ANZ Stadium, just two weeks out from the semi-finals. Both sides needed a win to keep their finals hopes alive. For either, a loss would mean their season was over.
Souths came close on two occasions early on through Sam Burgess, but the big man just couldn't find his way to the line. The first half saw big hits galore, with Burgess getting involved in some huge collisions between the two forward packs. At half-time, it was a stalemate, both teams heading for the sheds without a single point on the board.
But it took just three minutes into the second half for the drought to be broken as fullback Rhys Wesser broke through the Eels line and strolled 20 metres to score under the posts. Just a few sets later front rower Jaiman Lowe got over, this time by barging through the line with defenders clinging all over him.
The Eels hung in however, scoring just ten minutes later, although a penalty allowed Chris Sandow to extend our lead to 14-6. On the following kick-off, Parramatta booted the ball out on the full, and on the ensuing set, Issac Luke darted away from dummy half thirty metres out from the line, sold a perfect dummy, and broke through to score a classic try and bring the scores to 18-6 after 56 minutes. A few sets later Sandow put up a bomb and giant second rower Dave Taylor outleapt the pack to score under the posts.
Despite two late tries, it was too late for the Eels as we conquered them 24-16 and ended their season right then and there, keeping our own season alive for one more week. That match kick-started a seven-game winning streak for us against the Eels.
Souths' first meeting with Parramatta in 2011 was a solid 32-18 win, but their second matchup in Round 22 was a great day to be a Souths fan.
Being Indigenous Round, there was an appropriate start to the match as superstar centre Greg Inglis burst through the Eels' line just two minutes in to score a 50 metre try. Another Indigenous superstar, Club try scoring machine Nathan Merritt went over for a double soon after, and after half an hour Inglis was in again after leaping up to catch a Sandow kick. Just a few sets after, John Sutton burst through the line and sent Merritt over for a first-half hat-trick, and three minutes later again Michael Crocker put Sandow through a gap to run 60 metres to the line. No one could quite believe that we had blitzed our way to a 34-nil lead at halftime.
But the good times kept on coming as another Indigenous player, Dylan Farrell, crossed for 38-nil five minutes after the resumption. The Eels got a lucky bounce off the crossbar to score a consolation try, but it was all one way traffic as Merritt crossed for his fourth, Chris McQueen bagged a try to bring the scores to 50, and then in the final minute Englishman Luke Burgess handed Merritt his fifth try, equalling the Club's record for most tries scored in a single match.
The scoreboard read 56-6, our biggest ever win against Parramatta, and our biggest winning margin since disposing of the Panthers 59-5 in 1980.
In 2012 we posted strong wins against the Eels, the first being a 24-6 victory in Round 15, which was highlighted by a battle of the halfbacks. With Chris Sandow having joined the Eels on a lucrative deal, Souths went with local talent Adam Reynolds, who had an exceptional rookie year. This game was to deliver a special moment where the two number 7s came face to face, right up close and personal.
Leading 18-6 and attacking the line with less than ten minutes to go, Souths were looking for the match-sealing try when a Greg Inglis pass was swooped on by Sandow who sprinted his way downfield, looking certain to score. Nobody was going to catch the runaway halfback. Well, nobody except Reynolds, who careered across the field and cut Sandow down ten metres from the line, bundling him into touch. Reynolds got straight up and punched the rabbit on his chest, with the Souths faithful roaring their approval.
Later that season we recorded a 38-6 victory, handing the Eels the wooden spoon while we eventually made the top four. We won three of the next four encounters before arriving at Pirtek Stadium on a cold May night in 2016.
Early that month Parramatta were rocked by a salary cap scandal that saw their side stripped of their 2016 Auckland Nines trophy, as well as all the points they had accrued in the season to that point. Eels hooker (and Souths junior) Nathan Peats was released from the club as a result, and there was an air of emotion in western Sydney as the match kicked off.
The Eels were up for the game as well, scoring three tries before halftime to lead 14-6. Two minutes after the break, they got further ahead with Fijian flier Semi Radradra bagging his third for the night. At 20-6 any Souths supporter could be forgiven for thinking they had a long drive home ahead of them. The team weren't having it though, and the Rabbitohs began a great fightback.
Parramatta lost the ball from the kick-off, and a few sets later Kirisome Auva'a dived over the line to make it 20-12. It looked like Souths were over again when second rower Paul Carter charged down a kick 30 metres from the Eels line then chased after the ball and got in another curling kick just before it was about to go out. Reynolds dived on the ball in goal to score, but the rub of the green was against us as the video referee deemed Reynolds to have lost the ball, despite clearly grounding it with his torso.
The Eels continued to probe but after numerous dropouts and penalties couldn't get through the resolute and determined Souths defence. Trailing by eight with just twelve minutes left, utility Luke Keary put GI in a hole, making an 80 metre run before getting caught just 10 metres out, and eventually, Souths broke the line through Bryson Goodwin. Reynolds missed the conversion and it was 20-16.
As fulltime rapidly approached Inglis once again found himself with the ball on halfway, this time attracting multiple defenders before slipping a miracle bootlace offload to Goodwin. The Kiwi winger streaked downfield, drawing the fullback and finding Keary on his inside, the diminutive pivot diving over in the left-hand corner. With a wall of screaming and jeering Parramatta fans behind him, Reynolds calmly slotted a sideline conversion to give his side a famous 22-20 victory against all odds.
We pretty much had the wood on Parramatta for the first 50 years of conflict between the clubs, even when they were at their peak in the 1980s. Despite things turning against us from 1996 for a while, we have definitely re-established ascendancy, and we happily enjoy an overall winning percentage against the Eels.
And, despite all their wealth and arrogance over the last 30 years, they still haven't won a competition since 1986. Yet, from the way they behave at times, it's obvious they feel they have a right to success.
Well, they have no right to anything. The days of the Sterling-Kenny-Cronin-Ella-Grothe backline are long gone. The Eels now sit somewhere within a dark age, long between Premierships. Having been through our own dark age, we intend to show them in no uncertain terms that they have no more right to success than we do.
They certainly have no place to question our right to compete at the highest level the way they did so outrageously in 1999. We will never forget "The Emperor" Denis Fitzgerald and his Club's contemptuous attitude towards South Sydney. And we'll take great pleasure in reminding them just how proud we are of our club's mighty achievements.
We'll continue to teach the Eels a lesson of respect, of what our great club stands for, and we'll do it in our own way. We'll show some class – the class that would be expected from "The Pride of the League". We'll never stoop to the level Parramatta did when they openly mocked and denigrated the mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs.