In 2006, the structures for success became a reality as the Members voted in favour of Crowe and Peter Holmes à Court's bid for the Club. That goes up against the best ever season recorded in rugby league history - The undefeated 1925 Rabbitohs. Which moment moves on? Only you can decide!
Crowe and Holmes à Court Privatisation (2006)
Top Moments - Holmes à Court and Crowe's Privatisation 2006
In early 2006 the most important structural change in Souths’ long and proud history was unfolding. On Thursday, February 9, the South Sydney Board voted 6-3 to put the $3 million takeover bid by Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes à Court to the club’s membership. Then on Sunday, February 12, a preliminary information day was held at Telstra Stadium for members to hear both sides of the story. Hollywood actor and life-long Souths tragic Russell Crowe and Businessman Peter Holmes à Court (son of the late Robert Holmes à Court and his wife Janet) outlined their plans to an audience of about 12,000 Rabbitoh fans about privatising the club. Their plan was to buy 75% of ordinary shares through a company called Black Court League Investments Pty Ltd with the remaining 25% being shared by the Football Club members, called Member Co. The cost of the ownership of the 75% majority would be $3 million and the members would vote on Sunday, March 19: Yes or No.
The ’Yes’ faction was met with fierce resistance from the ‘No’ faction headed by George Piggins, several club legends and former Souths Juniors chairman Henry Morris. Piggins described it as a ‘dangerous plan’, while Morris went on TV saying his main objection to the privatisation was simply that $3 million was not enough to buy a club that is steeped in tradition as the South Sydney Rabbitohs. At the preliminary information day several people had their say and the last speaker was Russell Crowe himself, who led the floor with a ‘Yes’ chant. He promised to revitalise the iconic club.
In the paper the next day it was revealed that of the 4,505 members eligible to vote 3,942 had voted. The result was 2,988 voted ‘Yes’ and 954 voted ‘No’, meaning that Crowe and Holmes à Court succeeded in getting the required 75% of the votes – they actually reached 75.8%, with a mere 32 votes deciding the outcome.
The ‘No’ faction considered legal action to get the vote recounted, but nothing came out of that. George Piggins later declared that he would now walk away vowing never to attend another Souths match.
In a ceremony on Wednesday, June 6, 2006, at the Sydney Town Hall, chairman Nick Pappas handed over the keys to Peter Holmes à Court. Then at a function held at the Blue Hotel Woolloomooloo to celebrate the occasion the following night, Peter Holmes à Court gave South Sydney a cheque for $3 million. The Crowe and Holmes à Court era had officially begun.
For a club that previously had problems attracting marquee players, now were able to sign some of the best available talent on the market at the time.
Heading the impressive list of signings for 2007 was NZ international and Bulldogs prop forward Roy Asotasi, who was signed for five years and named co-captain. Others include NZ international and Storm second-rower David Kidwell who was also named co-captain (signed for three years), NZ international and Sharks centre Nigel Vagana (signed for two years), NZ international and Eels half Jeremy Smith (signed for two years), Eels ‘super-sub’ forward Dean Widders (signed for three years), Bulldogs hooker Daniel Irvine (signed for two years), and Dragons winger Reece Simmonds (signed for one year).
The club also signed 19-year-old unknown Issac Luke from the Bulldogs, on the recommendation of the clubs new recruitment officer Mark Hughes (one of the famous Hughes brothers who played for Canterbury in the 1970s and 1980s). Hughes spotted him at a NZRL junior carnival three years ago. Young Luke didn’t get a chance to play NRL yet and after making his NRL debut with the Rabbitohs in 2007 against Melbourne (Round 12), he went on to represent his country NZ several times and be one of the most popular players at the grand old club.
Jason Taylor was appointed head coach and Mark Ellison as his assistant coach. Wayne Lambkin became coach of Premier League team North Sydney Bears, who became Souths’ feeder club in 2007 and lasted until 2015.
The impressive improvements on the field had immediate impact with results as the club went on to win their first three games and then finished in seventh position at the end of the season to qualify for their first finals appearance since 1989, and in 2014 the mighty Rabbitohs achieved their ultimate goal – winning their 21st premiership after a 43-year-drought.
The Perfect Season in 1925
Top Moments - The Perfect Season of 1925
The Rabbitohs team of 1925 is still to this day the only side to win every premiership game and their great success can be attributed to kick-starting an unprecedented run of seven titles in eight years. Captained by Alf ‘Smacker’ Blair, with Alf O’Connor as his deputy and coached by Howard Hallett, Souths’ magnificent achievement can best be described as ‘the perfect season’.
Souths met Balmain in their Round 1 match at the headquarters (SCG), in front of 16,000 spectators. The Rabbitohs led 7-5 at the break, with Benny Wearing scoring 11 points in their well-deserved 16-10 victory.
In their next two games they kept both of their opponents scoreless. Firstly, they defeated Sydney University 13-0 at the SCG, and then arch-rivals Easts 14-0 also at the SCG. Towards the end of the match Souths’ vice-captain was sent off for a late tackle and later cautioned by the judiciary.
St. George gave Souths a scare in their Round 4 encounter, which was played at Earl Park, Arncliffe, in front of a record crowd of 7,500. On a very heavy ground which distressed both sides, the Dragons led 5-2 at the break, and despite scoring two tries to one they were pipped in the end by the Rabbitohs 11-10. The hero for Souths was Benny Wearing again, who scored a try and three goals for a personal tally of 9 points.
The Rabbitohs had another lucky win against Newtown in Round 5 at Marrickville Oval. Souths led 6-3 at the break, and increased their lead to 11-3 early in the second half. But Newtown clawed their way back with a penalty goal and a converted try to bring them within one point of Souths. The Rabbitohs were now desperately trying to win by a bigger margin, but instead, their over-eagerness was fatal when they were penalised and Tommy Ellis kicked the penalty goal to give Newtown the lead at 12-11. A scrum was packed close to Newtown’s tryline and Souths’ five-eighth Frank Brogan wriggled his way over to score the match winning try in the last play of the match. Benny Wearing had an off-day with the boot after missing all four kicks he attempted.
Souths bounced back into top form against Glebe in Round 6 with an easy 31-8 victory, with Ernie Lapham scoring 4 tries. Then, after having the bye the Rabbitohs defeated Wests 23-20 at the SCG in Round 8. This was followed with a comfortable 15-10 victory over second-placed Norths. The game was played at the SCG in front of the season’s largest crowd of 20,000 and the win gave the Rabbitohs a five-point buffer on the table.
The Rabbitohs secured their fifth title after defeating the Students for the second time that year. Their 8-2 victory put them six points clear on the ladder ahead of Balmain. Souths continued their unbeaten run after downing Glebe 11-2 at the SCG. Round 12 saw Souths bounce back into great form as they defeated St. George 25-8 at the SCG, who almost snatched victory against them in Round 4.
In their last round match a small crowd of 3,000 turned up at the SCG to witness Souths defeat Easts 8-5. Sydney received extremely heavy rain and the Bulli soil patch in the centre of the SCG pitch was under water and the rest of the field was very heavy. The poor conditions prevented Souths’ speedy backline from dominating the game and near the end of the game Souths’ prop Pat Murphy was sent off for fighting.
Pat Murphy was the only player to play in every game for the Rabbitohs, and Benny Wearing finished the season as the competition’s top tryscorer and top pointscorer with 76 points (12 tries and 20 goals).
The mighty Rabbitohs outfit of 1925 won their premiership by a comfortable 10 points and their dominance was so great that the NSWRL were forced into introducing an automatic finals series the following season in order to maintain interest in the competition. The system stayed in place until 1953.