Devoted though they may be, Sydney Roosters fans have no conception of the level of anticipation that Rabbitohs fans will be experiencing at the Sydney Football Stadium this Friday night.
For followers of the Red and Green, it is all about Greg Inglis and the hope that he can help deliver Souths from their premiership drought, which this September will hit 40 years. The only situation that remotely parallels the arrival of Inglis to Redfern that Roosters’ fans could identify with came back in 1996 when Brad Fittler made the switch from Penrith.
The Roosters had endured two painful decades of deteriorating fortunes since their dual grand final success under Jack Gibson and the acquisition of Fittler was viewed as the rebirth of the Bondi Junction club.
Premiership success may have been six years further down the track, but Fittler certainly helped transform the Roosters into a premiership heavyweight from the first day he arrived at the club. In fact, in his nine years as a Rooster, the club never failed to qualify for the finals.
And as if they need reminding, the Rabbitohs never beat the Roosters while Fittler was wearing a tricoloured jersey. The rout began on Anzac Day, 1996, when Fittler and his team-mates massacred the Bunnies 62-0. Souths were already in trouble before halftime when prop Corin Ridding was sent off for clobbering Roosters’ captain Sean Garlick and the day got a whole lot worse after that. It was, at the time, the heaviest defeat in Souths’ proud history.
It has been a long and painful march through the desert for the Rabbitohs since John Sattler last lifted the premiership trophy for the club back in 1971, and the Roosters have not been the only outfit to have exerted lengthy dominance over them.
Souths have weathered financial crises, elimination from the competition, on-field mediocrity and off-field mismanagement. But still the faithful have stuck by them. They will be there in their thousands this Friday night to cheer on their Great Hope and when Inglis emerges from the tunnel on the western side of the SFS, Souths fans will truly believe that a premiership title is within reach.
Their hopes have soared before, especially in 2002 when the Red and Greens were readmitted to the competition after people power forced the game’s co-owners News Limited to have a dramatic rethink. But even in those days of wild supporter optimism the reality was that Souths could not attract players of genuine star quality.
It has been that way for much of the Rabbitohs’ existence. They were working class from the time the club was conceived at Arthur Hennessy’s Surry Hills house in the summer of 1907-08. Until the arrival of financial white knights Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court in 2006, Souths have had to scrape for their survival. They may have more premiership titles in their cabinet than any other club but until the last few years, the Rabbitohs have never been in a position to jostle in the recruitment market with the affluent clubs of the premiership.
In the 1960s, Wests and St George held a mortgage on the leading talent that came onto the market and in the 1970s it was Easts, backed by media mogul Kerry Packer, and Manly, who pursued the stars. The arrival of the Broncos in 1988 made life especially tough for the poorer clubs and when Super League hit in 1995, outfits like Souths could not hope to compete for signatures with their cashed up rivals.
In Souths’ glory days they relied on local talent that emerged from the fields of Moore Park or from the rich junior nurseries at Mascot and Alexandria, Zetland and Redfern. Their network of talent scouts throughout country NSW lured young stars such as Churchill, O’Neill and Sattler when they were relatively unknown, but shelling out big money for leading talent was never an option.
Privatisation changed that dynamic in 2006 and in recent seasons the Rabbitohs have been in a position to recruit big-name stars such as Roy Asotasi, Dave Taylor and Englishman Sam Burgess. But the biggest catch of them all was landed in the off-season when Inglis agreed to make the switch from Melbourne to South Sydney.
The next 30 weeks will determine if Inglis is the missing piece in the puzzle for the Red and Greens, but for starters, Souths’ fans would be happy just to see him help peg one back on their arch-rivals from the eastern suburbs.
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