The South Sydney Rabbitohs may have left the town of Mudgee with the Charity Shield in hand, but the memories of the match weren’t the only thing the Club left behind for the people of regional New South Wales.
The Club truly embraced the week in Mudgee, with a number of events and special moments leaving a lasting impression on the region.
A large basis of the Club’s operations is The Rabbitoh Way - that is, showing what it means to be a Rabbitoh through commitment on the field and conducting oneself off it.
It is how communities outside of the South Sydney district know who we are, and it is something the Club takes in its stride.
No doubt this was typified by stand-in captain Sam Burgess, who gave away his match-worn jersey to a young fan who will hold the memories of the night for the rest of her life.
But the overall trip included so much more than the playing squad spending over 45 minutes post-match mingling with Members and supporters - and it’s fair to say there were no stones left unturned.
Like Damien Cook, Alex Johnston and Kyle Turner taking a walk into town and stumbling across the ‘Mudgee Burrow’, a house decked out in Red and Green, with white rabbit displays jumping through the front garden and big sign across the front of the house saying ‘The Burrow’.
Rather than just acknowledging it amongst themselves, the players went and knocked on the front door, much to the surprise of the family who owned the house, and had a cup of tea and a chat about footy before the big game on Saturday night.
It’s the simple gestures like this that make up The Rabbitoh Way.
Throughout the week, there was a touch of Red and Green at local Rugby League club the Mudgee Dragons, with Sam Burgess and his brother, former Rabbitoh Luke, making surprise visits to their training sessions to impart their wisdom to the young players.
The most defining part? They went on their own volition. No questions, no requests, just action.
For Mudgee Dragons President Sebastian Flack, the appearances from the two Englishmen had a huge impact on their club and players.
“They’ve restored everyone’s faith in Rugby League, especially with what’s recently been printed in the news,” he explained.
“There’s a big supporter base for the Rabbitohs in town and when they came down they spoke to everybody and left a good, lasting impression,” he said.
Mudgee Dragons secretary Kathy Laing agreed, elaborating that it wasn’t just the local football club that had been positively affected, but the entire community, particularly as they continue to battle through the drought.
“The knock-on effect it has had on cafes, accommodation, petrol stations, restaurants and everywhere has lifted the rural community,” she explained.
“It’s hard to put a value on it because it’s such a positive thing, and as we go through the drought it has an uplifting effect on the people.”
Club partners Young Henrys also got themselves involved, donating a keg of the Official Beer of the Rabbitohs for the patrons of the Oriental Hotel - only it ended up being so popular they ended up needing three!
Manager of Economic Development for the Mid-Western Regional Council, Alina Azar, highlighted the economic benefits that the Club brought to Mudgee and the Mid-Western Region.
“The economic benefits of an NRL game are significant for a regional area, with this game generating an estimated $1.6 million for the local economy,” Ms Azar explained.
“Souths’ dedicated fan base made up a large portion of visitors who provide a major boost for retailers, accommodation providers and restaurants.
“A successful and historic Club such as South Sydney brings important social benefits for the whole community.”
It wasn’t just the playing squad who were involved though, as Souths Cares, along with Captain Greg Inglis and Club Legend Nathan Merritt, travelled a further hour out from Mudgee to neighbouring town Wellington.
The group spent Friday afternoon educating over 700 students through the Healthy Active Lifestyles and Colgate Oral Health Programs to schools, with UNSW presenting tertiary pathways for students, which was yet another success.
“They really got through to our kids, and they thoroughly enjoyed it,” Wellington High School Principal Mr Rod Cosier said.
“There are plenty of Rabbitohs fans in Wellington, there always has been, and the kids have been talking about it ever since. They enjoyed the whole set-up and were engaged the entire time.
“Souths Cares and UNSW were really well prepared, and that’s the key with our kids, and they got a lot out of it.
“Souths Cares is a great name - because they do care - and that’s the message we try to get out to our school. When you have a Club as high profile as Souths speaking and interacting with our kids, that message gets through to them and our community.
“We wouldn’t hesitate at all if the Club wanted to come back. We were very, very impressed, and we want to thank South Sydney and Souths Cares for coming to Wellington High School.”
The community engagement continued that afternoon as five-eighth Cody Walker took time out of his schedule to present the NSW Indigenous under 16 side with their playing jerseys, in preparation for their curtain-raising match against the QLD Indigenous under 16s in another feel-good moment for the trip.
After their playing commitments, many would expect the squad to return to Sydney as soon as possible for a well-deserved rest - but that couldn’t be further from the truth - as the heroes of Saturday night attended the Mudgee Races on Sunday, continuing to socialise and engage with locals, ending the trip on a high note.
George Burgess and Thomas Burgess took it upon themselves to jump on the MC’s microphone and help present the Fashions on the Field. The players interacted with the Mudgee locals and turned a great event into a fantastic one.
“I was just thinking this morning that it could not have gone any better than how it was executed by the Rabbitohs and the Club,” said Mudgee Race Club Secretary Colleen Walker.
“The players had fun which was part of the exercise, but they never stopped talking and mingling with people. They interacted with people from age two to eighty-two, they dressed accordingly, and it added a very positive dimension to the day.
“Wayne Bennett was excellent as well. He was getting in amongst it and talked to everybody!
“They couldn’t have done any better, and from our behalf, it was an excellent day.”
And according to the Mayor of Mudgee, Councillor Des Kennedy, the presence of the Club was a major highlight for the region.
"It was fantastic. Everybody involved with the Club went above and beyond what we were expecting,” Councillor Kennedy said.
“The players’ engagement with the community was great, especially with the kids and the local football teams, and they were excellent ambassadors for the sport. You couldn’t fault them.
“It was very rewarding to have two great footy clubs to play here in Mudgee - which is no easy feat - and everybody who did their job should be commended. I think the off-field conduct of the players was great too and we’re looking forward to continuing to have the Rabbitohs in town in the future.”
The opportunities to make a difference in rural communities don’t come very often, but when they do, you can be sure that South Sydney will be doing it in The Rabbitoh Way.