The Story of South Sydney

The South Sydney Rabbitohs are one of the most famous clubs in the Australian sporting landscape.

Established in 1908, South Sydney remain as the oldest and most successful Rugby League Club in Australia, having won a record 21 Premierships - the most of any first-grade football team in the country.

The South Sydney District Rugby League Football Club was formed at a public meeting held at Redfern Town Hall on 17 January 1908, and on March 5, the New South Wales Rugby League issued the Club its receipt No. 2 for their £ -1 – 1 – 0 affiliation fee.

The Club's first Premiership match was played at Birchgrove Oval on Easter Monday, 20 April 1908, defeating North Sydney 11-7.

The Club won the inaugural NSWRL Premiership later that year, defeating rivals Eastern Suburbs 14-12 in the Grand Final, and in the next decade won a further three titles, establishing themselves early as a competition heavyweight.

The 1920s saw the first 'Golden Era' for the Club, claiming seven Premierships in eight years from 1925-1932, earning the moniker 'The Pride of the League' by journalist Claude Corbett - a title that is still held today.

As World War II turned the competition on its head, Souths struggled on the field as conscription thinned out playing stocks, and results suffered, winning just a single match in 1945 and 1946.

However, the 1950s provided the second 'Golden Era' with the emergence of players such as Immortal fullback Clive Churchill and inspirational captain-coach Jack Rayner. Five Premierships from 1950-1955 saw the Club's tally reach sixteen as other clubs struggled to keep up with South Sydney's dominance.

Churchill would return to the Club in the 1960s as head coach, and led the third 'Golden Era', winning four Premierships in five years from 1967-1971, while mentoring some of the Club's most cherished legends such as John Sattler, Bob McCarthy, Ron Coote, Eric Simms, John O'Neill and George Piggins, with the Premiership tally reaching 20.

While the end of the 1970s saw the Club's on-field fortunes fall with player departures, the 1980s sides provided some of the most entertaining football in the competition.

With passionate players such as  Mario Fenech, Craig Coleman, Les Davidson, David Boyle, Mark Ellison, Michael Andrews and Phil Blake on board, the George Piggins-coached Rabbitohs took out the Minor Premiership in 1989. 

Despite not winning a Premiership, the 1980s still remain as one of the most beloved eras in Club history. 

As the professionalism in Australian sport continued to rise, Souths struggled to keep afloat financially in the 1990s, directly affecting on-field results, with no finals appearances throughout the decade and the future of the famous Club looking bleak with the 21st century on the horizon.

Despite unwavering support from die-hard fans and Members, as well as the emergence of promising up-and-coming talent such as Darrell Trindall, Sean Garlick and Craig Wing, the financial pressures from the ill-fated Super League venture and the new National Rugby League saw the Club expelled from the competition in 2000.

But in the time of need, the people of South Sydney stood up and fought for their Club.

Over 80,000 fans - led by Club legend George Piggins - marched through Sydney's CBD to Town Hall in November 2000 to protest against News Limited and the National Rugby League for the decision to exclude the Club from the competition.

Through months of trials, tribulations, and plenty of tears, the pain for South Sydney faithful was alleviated in July 2001, as the Club successfully won their appeal to be re-admitted into the competition for the 2002 season.

Although the Rabbitohs were back to where they rightfully belonged, plenty more work needed to be done off the field to ensure success on it.

While the Club produced names such as John Sutton, Luke Stuart, Issac Luke and Nathan Merritt, who would finish their careers as Club legends, results were still few and far between, finishing last three times within four years. 

However 7 June 2006 was the turning point for the Cardinal and Myrtle.

Through a new partnership between Russell Crowe, Peter Holmes à Court and the then-8000 Members of the Club, the Members of the Football Club voted by a 75.8% majority to convert the Club from a company limited by guarantee to a company limited by shares at a historic General Meeting held on 19 March 2006.

As a result, the Club was able to reinvent itself in the professional sporting landscape, and with plenty of big names on board such as Roy Asotasi, David Kidwell, Nigel Vagana and Dean Widders, season 2007 saw the Rabbitohs make their first finals appearance in eighteen years.

The Club celebrated their centenary in 2008, as the next decade proved to be the most successful since the 1970s.

Emerging one of the powerhouses of the competition once again, the Club acquired the services of superstars such as Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess and in 2012 through coach Michael Maguire made the preliminary final for the first time since 1989. 

Souths famously broke a 43-year Premiership drought in 2014 when they defeated Canterbury-Bankstown 30-6 in the Grand Final.

Burgess became the first South Sydney player to claim the coveted Clive Churchill Medal as Man of the Match, playing 79 minutes of the match with a fractured cheekbone and emulating the same courage John Sattler showed in the 1970 Grand Final when he played on with a broken jaw.

The Club earned the title of World Champions as they defeated Super League Club St. Helens in the 2015 World Club Challenge, claiming the biggest winning margin in a World Club match in the 39-nil drubbing.

The honours would continue as Souths steamrolled opposition teams, claiming the 2015 Auckland Nines title, becoming the first Club to hold the Premiership Trophy, Auckland Nines Trophy and World Club Challenge in the same period.

At present, the Club continues to challenge for the elusive 22nd Premiership, finishing season 2018 just one win away from another Grand Final berth.

With seven-time Premiership-winning coach Wayne Bennett at the helm, and the likes of Inglis, Sutton, Adam Reynolds, Dane Gagai, Damien Cook and the Burgess brothers, we will look to make 2019 a season to remember.

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