Rivalry Round arrives a week early at Brookvale Oval this Sunday when the Sea Eagles and the Rabbitohs rekindle one of the game’s longest-standing tribal contests.
It is 60 years since Souths and Manly first met in a grand final, the first of three such meetings that all resulted in victory to the Red and Greens and culminated in the brutal 1970 decider when John Sattler played through most of the grand final with a broken jaw.
But to suggest that the rivalry has diminished in the 41 years since their last grand final duel would be wrong. The two outfits have clashed in two finals series since then: in 1984 when the Rabbitohs continued a remarkable record of success against Manly in finals matches, storming back from a 14-0 deficit to win 22-15; and in 2007 when the Sea Eagles ruined Souths’ celebrations at returning to the finals after an 18-year absence.
Followers of both clubs who are aware of the history understand that every contest between these clubs carries a forceful resonance and a connection with the past.
Even on Sunday there will be a revival of an old personal confrontation when Sea Eagles fullback Brett Stewart again locks horns with former Melbourne pair Greg Inglis and Michael Crocker.
It was in the 2007 grand final that a crashing tackle by Inglis and Crocker stunned Stewart after the Manly number one took a bomb, and it virtually changed the course of the match.
And the Sea Eagles will have a score to settle with the Rabbitohs after Souths snatched a 32-30 victory at Gosford’s Bluetongue Stadium back in Round 4. Manly rookie Daly Cherry-Evans had the opportunity to send the game into golden point with a late conversion attempt but his kick from touch just shaded the left upright.
A feature of Souths-Manly clashes has been the incidence of individual players who have accomplished highlights in these games that have ranked among the greatest moments of their careers.
Among them were:
• Johnny Graves, Souths’ highly regarded Test winger of the 1940s and 1950s, who scored four tries against Manly in the 1951 grand final, a record which stands to this day.
• Clive Churchill, the Immortal fullback, who kicked a conversion from the sideline in a club match against the Sea Eagles in 1955 despite the inconvenience of a broken arm, to keep Souths on track for a remarkable premiership victory.
• Mike Cleary, dual-international winger, who scored Souths’ only try in their 1968 grand final win over Manly after snapping up a miss-directed Sea Eagles’ pass and sprinting 75 metres to the line.
• John Sattler, the Rabbitohs’ captain who made his own bid for sporting immortality by playing through the pain of a badly broken jaw to lead Souths to victory in the 1970 decider.
• Steve Menzies and John Hopoate, the rangy back-rower and powerful winger, who terrorised the Rabbitohs in 1996 when each scored a career-best four tries in 44-6 (Menzies) and 48-10 (Hopoate) victories.
Another feature of the Souths-Manly rivalry dates back to the early 1970s, when the Sea Eagles, in their bid to break their premiership drought, “stole” a number of the Rabbitohs’ top-line players.
In a move that still rankles with long-term followers of the Red and Greens, Manly recruited Rabbitoh internationals John O’Neill and Ray Branighan, along with noted try-scorer Tom Mooney and rugged back-rower Bob Moses. O’Neill and Branighan became instrumental figures in the Sea Eagles’ back-to-back grand final successes in 1972 and 1973. In later years, the Sea Eagles continued to target Rabbitohs’ players in their recruiting drives. Stars of Manly grand final teams of the mid-1990s Mark Carroll, Terry Hill and Ian Roberts were all former Rabbitohs.
Cross-over between the clubs has been minimal in recent years but there is one former Rabbitoh in the Manly line-up that will meet Souths this Sunday. Ironically, second-rower Joe Galuvao was one player the Red and Greens did not want to keep.