Three proud traditions collide on Sunday afternoon at the SCG when the South Sydney Rabbitohs take on the St George Illawarra Dragons in Round 3 of the NRL Telstra Premiership.
After a long-standing and proud rivalry stretching back to 1921 – the year St George entered the top-flight NSWRL competition – in 1999, a new era was welcomed when the Rabbitohs took on the newly-formed St George Illawarra Dragons for the first time, a merger between the St George Dragons and the Illawarra Steelers who had entered the Premiership in 1982.
Appropriately, the match was played at the SCG – the sight of so many clashes between the two Clubs – and saw the men in Red and Green emerge 25-24 victors in a thrilling encounter.
But the rivalry first began on the 25th June, 1921, when South Sydney – featuring legendary Club names such as Benny Wearing, Howard Hallett, and Alf ‘Smacker’ Blair – first faced a very different looking Saints outfit, kitted out in red and white striped jerseys at Moore Park’s Sports Ground. Souths would emerge 20-9 victors on the day, with winger Wearing and Gordon Vaughan both snaring try-scoring doubles.
The clashes would continue through to 1998 and would include five Grand Final appearances (1927, 1949, 1953, 1965 and 1971) – the Rabbitohs emerging victorious in three of the deciders.
In all, the Rabbitohs met the St George Dragons 163 times, winning 69 clashes and going down in 92 while drawing 2.
Ironically, it would be a Grand Final loss against the Dragons that would prove a pivotal point in the rivalry’s history though.
In 1965, the Grand Final may have been won by the Saints 12-8, but the legacy of that game, played on 18 September 1965 in front of a crowd quite literally hanging from the rafters, has gone down in Australian Rugby League folklore. The match would also prove a significant moment in Rabbitohs history – signalling the beginning of a new era for the Club.
On display that season and that day was the next crop of South Sydney super-stars – players who would take the Club to four Premierships in five years between 1967 and 1971 upon the instalment of limited-tackle football in ’67.
Officially, the crowd was posted at a ground record 78,056, however, with overwhelming public interest in the match between the at-the-time nine-straight Premiership winning Dragons, and the brash young challengers from South Sydney, ticket supply was exhausted well in advance of kick-off, and the real crowd figure is estimated to be somewhere in the region of 90,000 – some double today’s official ground capacity.
If the unofficial estimate is true, the crowd would be the largest crowd that South Sydney has ever played in front of – eclipsing the 2014 Grand Final (83,833).
By 1pm, police ordered the SCG gates to be shut on the grounds of safety. But that didn’t stop thousands of Sydney-siders improvising solutions to their Grand Final dilemma.
Rugby League revellers intent on seeing the Rabbitohs take on the might and experience of the Dragons scaled walls, climbed grandstands, positioned themselves on the playing surface – mere metres from play – in an attempt to watch the final game of the season.
On the other side of the joint-venture, the Rabbitohs and the Illawarra Steelers first met on the 14th March 1982, in Round 3 of the NSWRL Premiership at Wollongong – the Steelers running away with a 20-10 victory.
In all, the two sides met on 31 occasions with the Rabbitohs winning 12 of those encounters, while 25 games have been played against the merged St George Illawarra side. The Rabbitohs have won 10 of those clashes.
The two Clubs also play contest the annual Charity Shield – a match which has unofficially opened the Rugby League season for over 30 years.
The Rabbitohs will take on the St George Illawarra Dragons at the SCG this Sunday. Kick-off is at 4pm. Click here to purchase your tickets!