Written off as 'rejects' and 'cast-offs' ahead of the 1994 season, Bob McCarthy inspired his South Sydney Rabbitohs Rabbitohs to beat the Brisbane Broncos, the defending Premiers and with an all-star team, 27-26 in an emotional Tooheys Challenge Cup clash.
It was a preseason tournament that offered the winners $200,000 in prize money - something that the Rabbitohs of the 90s needed much more than the cashed-up Broncos. No-one gave a chance to the men in Red and Green when they stepped onto Lavington Sports Ground in Albury and even less would’ve expected Brisbane to show mercy with their stacked team of Australian stars.
But, with a new coaching regime lead by McCarthy and a raft of new players brought in help improve on the Rabbitohs 14th-place finish in the 1993 season, something magical happened. Big League Magazine claimed it was the ‘South Sydney spirit alive and well’ and Paul Mellor, our 19-year old winger at the time, agrees - although not as theatrically.
“I think we felt like we had nothing to lose because all the pressure was on them,” said Mellor.
“We weren’t expected to win. We’d played three previous games in that Tooheys Challenge. That’s the attitude into those games; that no one was rating us to win any of these games.
“I remember it was very tight near the end and we were leading most of the game. They got ahead and we just came back right at the end. I just remember it as a fantastic time and great celebrations after the game.”
Mellor remembers marking up against Steve Renouf; a player he looked up to while a junior with the Matraville Tigers. It was a surreal moment for Mellor and only further underlined the fact that McCarthy’s youngsters were facing off with a dual Winfield Cup premiership team. To make matters worse they were without the service of suspended five-eighth Darrell Trindall.
“They had an amazing team. If you look at some of those players who played in those teams; both Walters brothers, Lazarus, Langer, Renouf - 90% of those players had played for Queensland and also Australia,” recalled Mellor.
“One of my favourite players, Steve Renouf, was playing for them at the time. I remember trying to mark him on numerous occasions and he was just awesome, terrifying every time he ran the ball.
Mellor, who today still holds the club record for youngest debut at 16 years 10 months, managed to get on the scoreboard that night after a brilliant Craig Field run. Field’s 73rd minute try would prove the most vital in the match as he stole back the lead from the world champions to snatch the one-point victory.
“I don’t actually remember scoring that try. I cheated and watched the game this morning to remember how I did it. I didn’t really do much. ‘Fieldsy (Craig Field) made this great break, sort of passes back on the inside and, I think they even commentated, all I had to do was run to the line,” said Mellor.
“When I think of that game I think about how well Craig Field played. I think he was a stand out in the game. Duncan McRae played really well and also Terry Hermansson.
“I’d grown up playing with those people - Tyran Smith, Shannon Donato, Duncan McRae were all guys I played junior football with - so it was really nice going through and playing first grade with those guys. We all knew each others game really well. Something I look back on fondly.”
Match report supplied by Michael Curin.
The paupers of rugby league, South Sydney, scored a stunning 27-26 victory over the premiers, Brisbane, in the Challenge Cup Final at Albury’s Lavington Sports Ground. The Rabbitohs not only entertained, but dazzled the 14,884 crowd in one of the game’s biggest upsets to pocket $200,000 in prize money.
The Rabbitohs came from behind with eight minutes remaining when man of the match, Craig Field, scored the match winning try. For the first time the Broncos had taken the lead four minutes into the last quarter when Wendell Sailor slipped a flip pass out wide for Renouf to score a try. Terry Matterson converted to give them a 26-23 lead.
But nine minutes later Duncan McRae got his pass back to Paul Quinn, who gave it to Jason Bell, who then put Field over for a try.
Coach Bob McCarthy said the Rabbitohs had been called rejects and cast-offs but had now beaten both grand finalists from last year – and came from behind in both games.
“When you’ve got an Australian backline looking at you, and a few internationals in the forwards, it takes spirit, as well as ability to win. They are the world champions, but tonight was our night,” he said.
“You can smell something big in this club right now. People say this was a rebuilding year and we couldn’t possibly make the semis, but maybe they will have to rethink that now.”
Broncos coach, Wayne Bennett, praised the Rabbitohs. “I thought Souths were wonderful. They didn’t allow us anything and we were beaten by a better team tonight,” he said.
Brisbane were without skipper Langer for much of the second half because of a corked thigh, but Bennett said the Test half would be fit for the opening premiership clash with Parramatta.
Rabbitoh fullback, Justin O’Neill, was distraught over two refereeing decisions. He was penalised for a double movement after claiming a try in the 16th minute, and several Bronco players believed McRae had been marked when he tapped ahead for the winning try.
“I’m not going to criticise the ref, but video replays don’t lie,” a fuming O’Neill said.
South Sydney 27 (J.Donougher, T.Smith, S.Wilson, P.Mellor, C.Field tries; J.Corcoran 3 goals; D.McRae field goal)
Brisbane 26 (W.Carne 2, T.Matterson, Kevin Walters, S.Renouf tries; Matterson 3 goals) at Lavington Sports Ground, Albury, Friday night, March 4, 1994 (7.30pm).
Crowd: 14,884. Referee: Greg McCallum. Halftime: Souths 16‐10. Scrums: Souths 10‐6. Penalties: Souths 6‐3.
SOUTHS: Duncan McRae; Jamie Corcoran, Shane Wilson, David Penna, Paul Mellor; Jason Bell, Craig Field; Terry Hermansson, Dean Schifilliti (c), Brett Goldspink, Jeremy Donougher, Tony Mestrov, Tyran Smith. Interchange: Paul Quinn, Darren Maroon, Jason Ryan, Jamie Kelso. Coach: Bob McCarthy.
BRISBANE: Julian O'Neill; Willie Carne, Steve Renouf, Chris Johns, Michael Hancock; Kevin Walters, Allan Langer (c); Gavin Allen, Kerrod Walters, Glenn Lazarus, Mark Hohn, Peter Ryan, Terry Matterson. Interchange: John Plath, Wendell Sailor, Brett Galea, Andrew Gee. Coach: Wayne Bennett.
Man of the match: Field (Souths).
6 min: South Sydney 4‐0 (Donougher try)
11 min: 4‐all (Carne try)
19 min: South Sydney 8‐4 (Smith try)
22 min: South Sydney 14‐4 (Wilson try; Corcoran goal)
30 min: South Sydney 14‐10 (Matterson try; goal)
35 min: South Sydney 16‐10 (Corcoran goal)
44 min: South Sydney 22‐10 (Mellor try; Corcoran goal)
48 min: South Sydney 23‐10 (McRae field goal)
51 min: South Sydney 23‐16 (Kevin Walters try; Matterson goal)
60 min: South Sydney 23‐20 (Carne try)
64 min: Brisbane 26‐23 (Renouf try; Matterson goal)
73 min: South Sydney 27‐26 (Field try)