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Venturing North

With the expansion of the Australian Rugby League reaching all corners of the country, season 1996 gave the Grand Old Club the chance to test themselves against some new competition.

In Round 16, the South Sydney Rabbitohs travelled up to Townsville for the very first time to take on the North Queensland Cowboys, something which former Rabbitohs outside back Paul Mellor was looking forward to.

"It was an exciting time for the competition," Mellor said.

"The Cowboys were a club looking to establish themselves, and we didn't just want a win early on, but we wanted a big win so we could build our momentum and get a string of wins together."

"Playing for a club like the Rabbitohs with so much tradition and history made us really want to get over those newer expansion teams."

Despite having only won four matches all season, Souths were coming off a confidence-boosting victory against another club from the sunshine state, the South Queensland Crushers, demolishing them 48-16 at the hallowed Redfern Oval turf the week before.

"I remember back in those days, well before Johnathan Thurston came along, that the Cowboys weren't actually a big threat," Mellor explained.

"In the early days of the comp there was a big difference between the top teams and the bottom teams, but unfortunately we were more of a team down the bottom of the ladder.

"We looked forward to those kinds of games because we really thought we were in with a shot, as opposed to when we played sides near the top of the ladder."

But this test was different. The Red and Greens would have to beat the heat in the tropical north, playing in a climate they weren't accustomed to, which showed as the Cowboys shot out to an 18-nil at halftime.

However, just as they had done on numerous occasions in the past, the Rabbitohs were able to muster up a comeback of epic proportions in front of a record-breaking crowd of 27,096 at Stockland Stadium (1300SMILES Stadium).

After tries to Paul Quinn, David Penna and Shane Wilson, halfback Craig Field sent Corin Redding crashing over to level the at score 20-all. With less than a minute remaining, Field calmly kicked the conversion despite the raucous home crowd jeering him to give the Rabbitohs a 22-20 victory. 

Mellor believes the momentum from the previous week's win played its part in the victory, as well as the ability to channel the resilience and spirit of teams from years gone by.

"A lot of football is about momentum and if you can get a win, the feeling in the club grows, and confidence and positivity grows," Mellor said.

"In my first stint at Souths, that was my last year, and I thought we had a pretty good team capable of doing those kinds of things."

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Match Report supplied by Michael Curin

Another record-shattering crowd at Stockland Stadium left disappointed after the North Queensland Cowboys blew a golden opportunity for a victory against the Rabbitohs. The home team led 18-0 at half-time, capitulated alarmingly in the second half, and eventually going down by 22 points to 20.

A crowd of 27,096 surpassed the previous ground record, set only two weeks earlier against Penrith, by more than 2000 and showing us how healthy the game is in the far north.

Spirited Rabbitohs deserved the accolades they received for the comeback of the season, with their whirlwind finish, but it was more a case of the Cowboys showing their fans how to lose a game of football at Stockland Stadium.

Ridding's try made it 20-all and halfback Craig Field, who played a major role in Souths' fightback, calmly added the extras with 20 seconds to go despite the best efforts of the huge crowd to put him off.

"He (Field) prayed to God for everything," revealed jubilant skipper Craig Salvatori. "He knows he's not the best boy in the world but he said if God would just grant him one last thing, then this would be it."

And not only did he kick the goal which gave Souths the points, Field also sent the final pass to Ridding after nearly every Rabbitoh player had featured in a desperate attacking raid on the Cowboys' line.

"We came back from the brink of death – it was certainly amazing," said Salvatori.

South Sydney Rabbitohs 22 (P.Quinn, D.Penna, S.Wilson, C.Ridding tries; C.Field 3 goals)

defeated

North Queensland Cowboys 20 (I.Dunemann, J.Loomans, P.Bowman tries; S.Howarth 3, A.Vowles goals)

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