|Last 10 years||13||10||3||0||391 (Avg 30 ppg)||216 (Avg 17 ppg)||77%|
In February 1908 a delegation from Sydney went to Newcastle to convince the locals to supply the eighth team for the new NSWRL competition. After some political skulduggery 15 players met and agreed to play for the new club by signing their names on the back of a cigarette packet. This first incarnation of the Newcastle Rugby League Club played in the NSWRL competition for just two years, the district forming its own four-team competition in 1910.
Souths played them five times in those two years and we scored eight tries in winning the very first encounter 30-11 at the Agricultural Ground. It wasn't until the last premiership round of 1909 that we had to travel to Newcastle to play them.
We hadn't lost a match all year but at home they were too good, scoring the only try of the game and winning 5-0, thereby grabbing the last spot in the semi-finals.
Just a week later though, they had to come to Sydney and we knocked them out of the play-offs, winning 20-0. It remains the only time we have ever played Newcastle in a semi-final.
Between 1910 and the 1980s rugby league continued to thrive in Newcastle, with many a touring team coming undone when they played the Combined Newcastle representative team. In the early 1980s though, with the NSWRL looking to expand its horizons, Newcastle launched its campaign for inclusion in the big league. After failing to make the grade in 1982, when Canberra and lllawarra were admitted, the bid was finally approved in April 1987 and the Newcastle Knights took the field for the first time in 1988.
Our first game against the new team was in round 10. We made a great start to 1988, winning seven times in the first nine weeks, and we went to Newcastle confident of building on that. The Knights had struggled to that point, winning only twice. Our fans got an introduction that afternoon to the passion that Novocastrians have for their team, the visiting Sydney fans copping a right pasting from the local contingent. The team didn't have much fun that day either, going down 17-10. It was the start of a problematic history against the Knights.
We did, however, get them the next year, just as we got pretty much everyone in 1989. We only played them once and, even though they raced to a 10-0 lead early, the sheer genius of Phil Blake grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and we posted a stirring 18-10 victory at a waterlogged Sydney Football Stadium.
We didn't beat them for the next four years but, after starting the 1994 season with a roar by winning the pre-season Tooheys Challenge, we lined up against Newcastle at the Sydney Football Stadium in the first game of the premiership as very warm favourites. The Knights regular halfback, Matthew Rodwell, had injured his knee in the final trial and a young number seven had been brought into the team for his first full match in the top grade. On debut, Andrew Johns ran amok, scoring 23 points and winning the man-of¬ the-match award in a 43-14 shellacking. On the return trip though, we managed to chalk up our first ever win in Newcastle, scoring five tries in a convincing 28-14 win.
We floundered for a few years after that though, and the Knights had little trouble with us until 1999. That year every game was critical, but the two matches against Newcastle were absolutely pivotal to the outcome of the season. After 11 rounds Souths had notched five wins, five losses and a bye, and were precariously perched in equal eighth place. It was State of Origin week and the Knights were understrength but nevertheless the Rabbitohs were on fire.
Physical superiority was stamped on the match in the very first tackle when Souths prop Mark "Spud" Carroll knocked David Lomax out cold with a frightening (but legal at that time) shoulder charge, and from there we were simply clinical in our execution. Tries to winger Justin Loomans , benchman Wes Patten and second-rower Jimmy Smith had us in front 22-0 after an hour and a further try to Kiwi international Tony lro right at the death finished it at 27-4.
It was a cracking victory that looked like setting us up for a real run at the semis in that most fateful of all years but the aftermath, with the Knights up in arms over the Carroll tackle, was an oh-so-cruel blow for the Bunnies. Halfback Darrell "Tricky" Trindall, who had been in superb form all year and was the lynchpin of so much of the team's playbook, was cited for an innocuous "head high" tackle and, unbelievably, suspended for seven weeks. The tackle was no worse than 10 others that weekend, yet somehow the NRL judiciary managed to sideline our best player for two months. Despite the fact that we continued to confound the critics for a few weeks, the suspension ate away at the team and, by the time we went to Newcastle in round 23, we had to win the last four games to qualify for the play-offs.
On that bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, Souths fans steeled themselves for what they believed would be a real do¬ or-die effort against the Knights. However, in front of nearly 22,000 people (20,000 of whom wore red and blue), Newcastle scored five converted tries before halftime for a 30-0 lead. The second half was just as bad. Converted tries in the 44th, 51st, 64th and 70th minutes amassed a 54-0 lead. Over and over 20,000 fans chanted "We Want 60! We Want 60!" and the Rabbitohs, completely shell-shocked and totally overpowered, must have ached for the full time siren to sound. Eventually it did, but not before a final indignity. With less than 10 seconds to go, a bomb went up and Newcastle centre Mark Hughes caught it on the full and scored in the corner. And then after the siren, Andrew Johns, of course, kicked his eighth consecutive conversion (Owen Craigie kicked the other two) to complete the rout. 60-0! We lost the remaining three games, finished 12th, and two weeks after the grand final we were kicked out of the competition.
There was no joy against the Knights after our reinstatement in 2002, either, until 2005. It was a bizarre year for both clubs. After 15 rounds we had won just three games and drawn one. Newcastle had lost every single game, including a match against Souths in round 5 at Grahame Park, Gosford, where we led 24-6 at halftime and went right on with it in the second half, eventually winning 37-12. Mark Minichiello scored twice that day, with Bryan Fletcher, tiny fullback Roy Bell, Shane Marteene and David Fa'alogo also crossing. Joey Williams iced the cake with six conversions and a field goal.
We didn't play Newcastle again that season, but that didn't stop us going head-to-head with them in a titanic struggle to avoid the wooden spoon. The Knights finally did win their first match in round 16, then another in round 18, before winning six in a row between rounds 20 and 25. As they struck a rich vein of form it appeared that we may be headed for the spoon again but, rising to the challenge, the Rabbitohs got on their own winning streak. Despite Knights legend Paul Harragon taunting us on the Footy Show that he would "stand at the gates of Newcastle and never let the wooden spoon enter the city", we won six of the last eight matches to leave the Novocastrians in last place for the first time in their history.
In 2007 we lost by a point the first time we played the Knights, but we got them at Newcastle on a wickedly cold Friday night in round 16. After leading 12-0 early following converted tries to Nigel Vagana and Roy Asotasi, we let them right back into the game. Trailing 24-12 with just 12 minutes left, we were in real trouble before Jeremy Smith turned the match with an intercept try. Just a couple of minutes later Issac Luke went straight through, drew the fullback and passed to the fleet-footed Asotasi who scored under the posts to level the scores. The Knights kicked a field goal to edge in front again, but, inside the last five minutes, five-eighth Ben Rogers dummied close to their line and charged over for the match-winning try. It was our first win in Newcastle for 13 years.
Over the next five matches we would go tit-for-tat, including two classic wins on the Central Coast, 22-12 and 28-10 in 2009 and 2010 respectively, but Round 26 of the 2011 season was a night that no Souths or Knights fans will forget.
Our 2011 season had been a rollercoaster to say the least, with an injury toll even Florence Nightingale would have struggled to handle. But despite all the adversity we arrived in Newcastle in ninth place, needing to win to make our first finals appearance since 2007. Similarly, the Knights needed a victory to solidify their position in the top eight.
Despite the importance of the match Souths were, inexplicably, right off their game from the beginning and the Knights crossed three times in the first fifteen minutes. We struck back through Shaun Corrigan, and looked like scoring again as Nathan Merritt broke through the defence. Surging towards the line, Merritt was chopped down by Knights fullback Kurt Gidley, and in his struggle to ground the ball, momentum from the hit pushed him out to touch.
The Knights then ran to a 30-6 halftime lead and, although we staged a late comeback with Merritt crossing twice and Chris McQueen going over, the Knights ran away 40-24 winners. Winger Akuila Uate equalled a club record, scoring 4 tries in the match, including a 100 metre blitz in the 80th minute, which particularly stung.
Once again, the Knights had undone our season, but that was the last time we have lost to them. Since then it's been smooth sailing, with some big wins, and we now enjoy an eight-match winning streak.
In 2012 we crushed the Knights 34-14 in Sydney and, for the second year running, we travelled up the M1 to take them on in the final round of the regular season. The 2012 Rabbitohs were a very different animal though, having already qualified for the finals, and this time needed a win to lock in a spot in the top four. The Knights on the other hand, despite recruiting heavily that season, including the acquisition of super coach Wayne Bennett, were playing only for pride on old boys day.
It was absolutely freezing in Newcastle that night but Souths fans started to feel a little warmer when Roy Asotasi claimed a try in the 7th minute, followed ten minutes later by Greg Inglis barging over from dummy half to help the Rabbitohs to a 12-0 lead.
The Knights got on the board half an hour in, with fullback Darius Boyd scoring a dubious try, which appeared to be a double-movement. Despite even the commentators agreeing, the video referee gave the green light and the score was 12-6 at halftime.
With renewed confidence the Knights came out firing in the second stanza, and shifted the ball early to Akuila Uate – the man who had completely dominated us just twelve months earlier. Making a beeline for the corner, Uate looked certain to score before Inglis produced one of the biggest defensive plays seen on a rugby league field. 'GI' absolutely manhandled his opponent, stopping him dead in his tracks, stripping the ball off him up in the air and batted it back to Nathan Merritt, who caught it just inches from the try line and the sideline. The moment will be seen on highlight reels for years to come, and after John Sutton emulated GI's try by barging over in the corner, we took out the match 18-6 held on to cement our first top four finish since 1989.
As the South Sydney juggernaut emerged after decades of dormancy, we began to inflict the same pain that the Knights had done to us in years past, with some huge demolition jobs.
In 2013 we notched a close 25-18 victory without our Origin stars. The next three matches we won by a combined 150-22 in absolute routs, the first being a big win up in Cairns on our way to the premiership in 2014. After leading 26-0 at halftime, we hit the half century with winger Alex Johnston bagging his first career hat-trick in the 50-10 rout.
The next year we hosted the Knights at ANZ Stadium, and despite the Knights crossing first, it was all one way traffic as we did one better, leading 36-6 at halftime and then finishing off with a 52-6 victory. Greg Inglis and Dylan Walker both bagged hat-tricks, and the Knights ended up with the wooden spoon for the first time since 2005 while we were finals bound once more.
Come 2016 we began our season with a bang with a 42-10 win over arch-rivals the Sydney Roosters, and the next week we once again had the Knights in our backyard and put on nine tries in a 48-6 win. We put them to the sword in Round 25 winning comfortably 34-12 and handed them their second consecutive wooden spoon.
In those four matches, Alex Johnston alone bagged nine tries. The tables had truly turned.
Our most recent meeting with the Knights is one that went to the wire, filled with controversy and heated exchanges.
Coming off a blockbuster win against Manly early on in 2017, we once again ventured up to Newcastle to take on the 'reigning' wooden spooners. Souths continued to show form from their 38-18 win the week before with Johnston strolling over the line in just the sixth minute of the match, and John Sutton scored a trademark try just a little while later to give us a 10-0 lead.
It seemed as if the Knights only ploy to take us down was to get under our skin, and that's exactly what they did. Backrower Mitch Barnett decided to wind up prop George Burgess, with the Englishman retaliating with a stray elbow to the face and a flurry of punches, which got him sent to the bin. The Knights struck back in quick succession and all of a sudden we trailed 12-10 at half time.
The break got Souths back on track, however, and winger Bryson Goodwin pounced on a Cody Walker grubber to put us ahead 16-12 just a minute after halftime. Heading into the 60 minute mark, Adam Reynolds looped a beautiful cutout ball to the other wing for rookie Braidon Burns to score his maiden NRL try in just his second appearance.
With ten minutes to go and down 22-12, the Knights frustration boiled over as captain Trent Hodkinson argued with the referee over a penalty, eventually claiming that it had cost his team the game. With this Hodkinson ended the game in the sin bin, Adam Reynolds kicked a penalty goal and, although Newcastle scored a consolation try, Souths had already sealed the win 24-18.
Although in the last ten years the Rabbitohs have begun to redress the balance, since 1988 the Newcastle Knights have beaten us on no less than 25 occasions. They have proved a real bogey team and, what's more, they've somehow sneakily staked a claim to two of our proudest traditions. Firstly, Andrew Johns is spoken of as the greatest player ever. Spoken of in the same terms as our own immortal Clive Churchill. And, as if that's not enough, through their own working-class roots, they even lay claim to being the People's Team. They talk proudly of "Our Town, Our Turf, Our Team" and their home ground is normally a fortress, jealously guarded by the team and its fanatical supporters, where the Knights enjoy a 59 percent winning record.
Newcastle may have weathered a tough few years recently but they are beginning to emerge from their drought, as we did from ours a decade ago. And despite our recent success against the Knights they cannot be take lightly, especially on their own turf.
We must be prepared, as in a true joust, to strike and strike again, never relaxing for a single second, never taking our eye off the main game. We still have a very long way to go to balance the books against Newcastle.
Against the Knights, our own fierce pride in the spirit and tradition of South Sydney is our armour. We need to take aim, steady, and ride to victory.