Turning The Corner

The 2007 season can be seen as one of the most important years in the history of the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

After a majority vote from Members saw Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes à Court as the new owners of the Club, everything was stripped down and reworked.

Old became new, the squad was revamped with plenty of big-name recruits, sponsors came on board, and even radical design changes for jerseys and logos were incorporated to coincide with the turnaround.

And with that came a new air of confidence.

Having already spent three seasons in Redfern, bookend front rower Peter Cusack had seen the Grand Old Club at its lowest point but says the breath of fresh air made for an exciting pre-season.

"Russell and Peter took over in mid-2006, Jason Taylor came in as Head Coach and it was a big pre-season and offseason," Cusack recalls.

"The build-up for the Club was massive, I do remember that. Particularly in the previous years, Souths were seen as a team that would be a guaranteed two points.

"That year we started winning games, the Club recruited well with Roy Asotasi and Nigel Vagana just to name a few."

After losing both their trial matches, there still may have been some doubt in the Red and Green faithful, but they started the season proper in the best possible manner, with a comfortable win over arch-rivals the 'Sydney' Roosters 18-6 in a Round 1 boilover.

The history-making win saw the side record their first win against the tricolours in two seasons, and their first opening match victory since 1999.

The next week was another challenge though, as semi-finalists from the previous year, the Parramatta Eels, were on the radar.

The Rabbitohs had three former Eels, with Jeremy Smith and Dean Widders taking the field in the Cardinal and Myrtle, and former coach Jason Taylor completing the triumvirate who had made their way from Parramatta to Redfern over the off-season.

Souths' opponents still held some classy players in their lineup, including Luke Burt, Jarryd Hayne, Brett Finch and captain Nathan Cayless, who would prove to be challenging opponents.

Much to the delight of Rabbitohs everywhere, the side came out and hammered the Eels 31-6, with Nathan Merritt scoring a double, including a memorable try coming off a chip and chase set up by Smith.

That match, for captain Cusack and his new-look troops, was the catalyst in the charge to make South Sydney the Pride of the League once again.

"Everyone knew from that match onwards they were up for a tough game against Souths," he said.

"When you do come up against a former side, just like I had from the Roosters a few years prior, you always want to have a big game so the guys who came from Parramatta definitely lifted for that match.

"That match proved we weren't going to be pushovers and that Round 1 wasn't a fluke."

Another win the week after saw the Rabbitohs' best start to a season since 1972, and although a five-match losing streak threatened to derail their season mid-year, the famous South Sydney spirit shone brightly at the back end of the year, and the side clawed their way to the finals for the first time in eighteen years.

Although their season ended in the first week of the finals, the fact that Souths had made the finals was a success in itself according to Cusack.

"It was one of my last seasons. The start of the year was good as we won a few games, but then we hit a bit of a losing patch but came back to make the finals," he said.

"We got run over by Manly in the semis, but it was a very good year for the Club."

Despite not finishing the year as premiers, South Sydney faithful will forever remember 2007 as the year we turned the corner, and the victory against the Parramatta Eels in Round 2 can be attributed as a catalyst of that change.

  

Match report supplied by Michael Curin

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South Sydney continued their dream start to the season with a rollicking 31-6 defeat of Parramatta at Telstra Stadium. The Rabbitohs scored five tries to one, the best of them a magnificent effort by winger Nathan Merritt.

Three minutes after half-time Merritt gathered in a cross-field kick from five-eighth Jeremy Smith and when hemmed in by the defence chipped ahead, regathered and then beat the despairing dive of Eels centre Ben Smith to score in the corner.

The try gave Souths unstoppable impetus and by full time the crowd of 15,165 was in raptures. The win was especially gratifying for coach Jason Taylor, who was unwanted at Parramatta before steering the Eels to an unlikely place in the finals as caretaker coach in 2006.

For him, '6 points' next to the Eels was of far more significance than the '31' next to the Rabbitohs. "It's always the defence for me," he said. "That's what the good teams in the competition do – they defend well and make it hard for opposition teams to score on them."

Eels coach Michael Hagan questioned a decision by video referee Stephen Clark to deny a first-half penalty try to interchange PJ Marsh after he was dragged from behind by Souths hooker Daniel Irvine, preventing him getting to a bouncing ball in the Rabbitohs' in-goal. Irvine was sin-binned as a result, but Clark declined to go further. "It would be difficult to find a better example of a penalty try," Hagan said.

With rejuvenated halfback Joe Williams leading the way, and a forward pack stronger than ever before, the only thing copping a beating at Souths are the drums before the game. After starring in impressive wins against the Roosters and Eels, Williams has good reason to believe the worst is behind the red and green. "You can't compare previous seasons at Souths to this," he says, pointing out the high-profile stars strengthening his side in 2007. "Some of these guys who have joined us this year are world-class players. We're not dwelling on the past. This is a new year."

Along with adding a touch of class to the player roster, Williams credits his own good form to the experience and guidance of coach Jason Taylor and veteran fullback David Peachey, who share a combined total of 521 first-grade games. Gorden Tallis – the most feared forward of the modern era – also played a key role in the South Sydney revival that is the talk of rugby league.

The 'Raging Bull' spent time with the undefeated Rabbitohs during their intense pre-season, lecturing the players and attending training sessions. At the instigation of Souths co-owner Russell Crowe, the Maroons legend joined the Bunnies squad in pre-season training at Crowe's luxury farm on the NSW North Coast.

South Sydney 31 (N.Merritt 2, P.Mellor, D.Fa'alogo, Vagana tries; J.Williams 5 goals, Williams field goal)

defeated

Parramatta 6 (T.Tahu try; L.Burt goal)

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