The 1980s saw the emergence of plenty of stars in the NSWRL, and with a changing of the times, the Parramatta Eels emerged as premiership threats, dominating the decade with four premierships.
In 1989, the South Sydney Rabbitohs themselves had established a team filled with a fearsome forward pack including the likes of Mario Fenech, Ian Roberts and Les Davidson, who were notorious for their aggression and pack-like mentality.
The backline was also blessed with talented players, both quick on their feet and between the ears, such as Craig Coleman, Phil Blake and Ross Harrington.
After losing their first match of the season, the side went on a record breaking run of twelve straight victories, which still remains to this day. Eleven games into that run, the side came up against perhaps their biggest challenge – taking on the Eels at Parramatta stadium.
It was as if the Eels had channelled their teams from the beginning of the decade when they had been most dominant, as they held a commanding 16-6 lead against the Rabbitohs just before halftime. Souths typically rallied back to level the scores, but just as they had squared things up, the Eels made a bust up the left side through winger Michael Erickson.
Rabbitohs List Manager Mark Ellison, usually a second rower, came off the bench to play fullback, and levelled Erickson with an absolute monster hit that will forever go down as one of the biggest hits of the decade. Ellison looked back on the moment with pride.
"It was the first time I'd ever played fullback," said Ellison.
"At half-time, our Coach, George Piggins, asked if I could play fullback and I told him I'd give it a go, so that's how ended up in the right position to pull off that tackle.
"I'd always been told as a kid 'always take the player with the ball and don't take the dummy'. The thought came through just to make sure I nailed him and if he passed it I couldn't do much about it. He had a bit of support around him, so I sort of came in at him slowly so he had to make a decision as to whether he was going to pass it. Thankfully he didn't."
Just a few minutes later the Eels threw a similar attacking raid, and typical of the player he was, 'Ello' put in a trademark tackle, putting his opponent on his back and preventing a probable try. One could say that it was those kinds of efforts that drove the side to their twelfth straight victory that day, and then going on to lift the J.J Giltinan shield later that year.
"I always remember that game, those two tackles and the way we fought back to get that win."
"We had a really good run – twelve in a row," said Ellison.
"We'd come together really well as a team, which was pleasing because nobody had given us much of a chance at the start of the season, but that belief culminated in us getting 12 wins in a row that day."
Match report supplied by Michael Curin.
South Sydney produced another spirited comeback to sink Parramatta after they had trailed 16-6. It was their 12th successive win, surpassing the extraordinary 1955 Rabbitohs, who won 11 straight, coming from last to win the premiership. The Rabbitohs are now four points clear of second-placed Penrith, who scraped home with a 17-16 win over last-placed Illawarra.
On hearing yet more odes to the mythical South Sydney spirit, Parramatta's coach John Monie snapped: "You don't win 12 games straight on spirit alone. That's bullshit. You win them with speed, good defence, and a lot of big forwards that keep on coming at you." What frustrated Monie was that his Eels had not played too badly. "Their ball handling was good, the supporting play was good."
Indeed, if Souths have a spirit, it's that of a street gang, particularly in their forwards. They combine to hammer the opposition in a cocksure, almost arrogant manner, each member working in a clearly defined hierarchy.
There's their leader, the brooding, swarthy captain Mario Fenech, who earned the man of the match status despite playing for 65 minutes with a broken wrist, and who looks as intimidating as he plays, always first into the defence one or two off the ruck, yesterday scoring his routine try, and beckoning his teammates into the action with good passes.
Organising behind him is the raffish halfback Craig Coleman, cajoling and cursing, pushing new members such as prop Mark Lyons, who hurt Parramatta with his solid grinding gains up the middle of the ruck. Sporting a few missing teeth and cut on his eyelid, Lyons paid his respects to Coleman: "Tugger, he's always behind you, telling you what you're doing wrong, if you're not running the ball up enough, I mean. I'm not bagging him, it's what you need."
The first Parramatta try, to winger Michael Erickson, was a straight intercept of hasty Coleman pass to the blind side. The second came shortly after a knock-on by Souths' winger Bruce Longbottom, when he tried to field a long Parramatta kick deep in his half with hardly a chaser in sight. And the third scored by Brett Kenny in the 27th minute, only happened because Souths dropped the ball a few tackles earlier. This gave Parramatta a 16-6 lead.
As if realising that they needed to get serious, Souths scored when they had to, two minutes before half-time, when Fenech barged over, and just after the break, when lock Michael Andrews scored under the posts, the conversion levelling the scores at 16-all.
It was the Rabbitohs' defence, statistically the best in the competition, that stood out as Parramatta attacked desperately when they realised that their assured win was now slipping away. Souths produced vicious tackles to dispirit Parramatta just when it looked like the Eels might score.
Second-rower Mark Ellison, a second-half replacement, smashed Erickson in a ball-and-all tackle just when it seemed Erickson, in the open 10 metres from the Souths line, would score. Moments later, Ellison did it again, driving a Parramatta runner on to his back just as the Eels looked like scoring close to the line.
Perhaps the secret to the Souths pack is that its capacity for work is simply enormous: Andrews, Chisholm, Lyons, hooker Jim Serdaris, are hardly big names, but they're indefatigable. You can also add speed to workrate. Centres Steve Mavin and Graham Lyons might receive a tenth of the adulation that goes to someone like pin-up boy, Andrew Ettingshausen, yet are breath-takingly fast. "We have amazing speed out wide," said Coleman.
South Sydney 24 (M.Andrews 2, S.Mavin, M.Fenech tries; M.Ellison 3, P.Blake goals)
Parramatta 16 (M.Erickson, P.Wynn, B.Kenny tries; A.Leeds 2 goals)