BACK TO THE FUTURE
Turn back the clock almost 12 years ago to the day and the USA Tomahawks and South Sydney Rabbitohs met in an historic battle at Redfern Oval in the Aristocrat Challenge.
On August 19, 2000 the USA Tomahawks closed out a tour of downunder with a final game against the Rabbitohs, who at the time had been banished from the National Rugby League competition in Australia. In a very public battle the famous South Sydney club had taken on the Rupert Murdoch backed media giant, News Corporation who's Australian holdings News Limited were major stakeholders in the NRL. The game between the famous rugby league club and the emerging US national team was developed through meetings between David Niu, Mike Robinson, Souths Juniors President Frank Cookson, and the leader of the Rabbitohs fightback, club legend George Piggins.
Prior to the exile, the Rabbitohs went through some tough times in the 80's and 90's where they went from minor premiers in 1989 to wooden spooners in 1990. It was tough times but led from the front by George Piggins, Souths again just did enough to survive in the competition but much of the time made up the bottom of the ladder. They played some enterprising footy at times and in 1994 took out the pre-season competition defeating two-time premiers Brisbane 27-26 in the final. In 1996 Souths played their last ever first-grade match at Redfern. They beat the South Queensland Crushers 48-16. However, lack of funds saw Souths unable to keep their top players (including captain Mario Fenech, Les Davidson, Mark Carroll and Craig Field) and a lot of talented young juniors were lost and went on to represent Australia from other clubs (these included Jim Dymock, Ian Roberts, Jim Serdaris, Terry Hill and later Craig Wing and Braith Anasta when the club was excluded from the competition).
The outbreak of the Super League war was going to affect the future of Souths with the vision to cut Sydney sides with Souths in the firing line. Refusing to merge or drop out, theNational Rugby League (a merger of Super League and ARL) cut South Sydney from the premiership for the 2000 season. The NRL set a bar of 14-teams and with 15 applicants, Souths were the team to miss out (due to a critera that many claim was specificially tailored to exclude South Sydney). Souths were finally starting to show some promise(being strongly involved in the race to the 1999 finals series, before faltering late on - many say the 7 week suspension of their on-fire halfback Darrell Trindall was the turning point in their season) and strong management in 1999 when the cut came. Souths fought their way back through the court rooms and public rallies generating a swell of support throughout Sydney and Australia as they took on the heavies at the NRL and News Limited. Souths won re-admission on appeal during the 2001 season and were brought back into the NRL competition for the 2002 season.
The match at Redfern Oval on that memorable August night in 2000 was a sellout. In fact, the game started an hour late to let as many fans in as possible who had queued outside for hours to be part of the Rabbitohs first game since being cut from the league. 22,000 fans packed into the ground and the Rabbitohs featured some of the great names of rugby league at that time including Billy Moore, Tony Iro, Ken McGuinness, Tony Hermanson, Wes Patten, and a 17 year old winger by the name of Nathan Merritt! When the Rabbitohs mascot lead the team on to the field to the strains of "Glory, Glory to South Sydney..." the crowd erupted in what must have been an intimidating introduction for the American squad. The US lineup featured a number of the long time internationals led by Jeff Preston, Shayne Mains, David Niu, Marcus Vassilakopoulos, Cory Sheridan, Chris Craig, Brian Warren and also featured Newcastle Knights and former Philadelphia Eagles NFL squad member Greg Smith. The Tomahawks scored first through a try by Greg Smith from a cross field kick from David Niu. Niu added the conversion from out wide for the US team to take a shock 6 - 0 lead and silence the Rabbitohs faithful. The silence was short lived however, as the South Sydney squad stacked with super talent going on to score 82 points! The Tomahawks scored the final try of the game to wrap up a fitting end to an incredible night of rugby league.
Pictures and information from the famous game in 2000 can be found here
Fast forward to September 2012 and this weekend will see the South Sydney Rabbitohs taking on the Canterbury Bulldogs in the NRL Semi Final at ANZ Stadium in Sydney to determine who will go through to the 2012 Grand Final while the USA take on Canada in the Colonial Cup in Connecticut.
Two teams on opposite sides of the planet linked forever in rugby league history!
Go Rabbitohs! Go Tomahawks!