South Sydney legend and rugby league Immortal, Clive ‘The Little Master’ Churchill, is still recognised by many judges as the best ever player to play The Greatest Game of All. His achievements of courage and athleticism on the football field are many, but none stand out more than his famous goal against Manly in 1955.
After Round 10 of the 1955 premiership Souths were coming last on the ladder and they had to win every game just to make the semi-finals and have any chance of retaining the premiership, which they’ve held since 1953. They won their next six games with ease and then hit a hurdle against Manly in Round 17 at Redfern Oval. Churchill broke his left wrist in the first tackle he made in the match and then played under intense pain for the next 75 minutes. Several minutes later he brought down the burly Manly winger George Hugo and clearly was showing pain.
Despite the pain he stayed on the field against the wishes of Souths officials, and at half-time his injured wrist was strapped and a thick sheet of cardboard used as a splint. Souths led 4-2 at the break to keep their premiership hopes alive. But early in the second half Manly fullback Gus Kellock kicked his second goal to tie the scores at 4-all. Kellock then missed another easy kick at goal and the next score didn’t happen until late in the match when Manly centre Johnny Hobbs picked up a rolling ball at half-way, then side-stepped Churchill and beat Bob Honeysett in the run to score beside the post. Kellock missed the easy conversion, and Manly now led by 7-4.
Two minutes from the end of play South Sydney half-back Col Donohoe lost the ball over the line after crossing near the posts. Some of Souths players disputed referee Col Pearce’s decision, but the referee was in line with Donohoe. Donohoe admitted after the match he had lost the ball.
As the timekeeper reached for the bell and on the last play of the game the ball swung across the field and Col Donohoe initiated a move which led to Les ‘Chicka’ Cowie scoring a miracle try, which locked the scores at 7-all. Churchill was given the opportunity to convert the try and win the game, which Souths needed to keep their semi-finals hopes alive. The conversion was taken 3 inches from the sideline, and as Churchill steadied himself for the kick, he adjusted the splint on his broken wrist and approached the ball faultlessly. The ball appeared to be directed outside the eastern goal post but in the last few yards veered inside the post and give the Rabbitohs a 9-7 win. Souths players, who were still congratulating Cowie on his try which equalled the score, all rushed to Churchill.
His goal is undoubtedly one of the epics of League. Former South Sydney president, Mr. Dave Spring later said: “Only a great player like Churchill could carry on while facing such a mental hazard as a broken wrist. Churchill must go down as one of the stoics of the code. His gallantry was in the best tradition of rugby league