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Classics & controversies: The greatest Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles clashes

Friday night's preliminary final between South Sydney and Manly has classic potential as two of the NRL's most electrifying attacking teams meet in Brisbane.

The foes share a rich history and fans can expect a match for the ages as master coach Wayne Bennett and mad scientist Des Hasler face off in a battle of the minds with a grand final spot on the line.

While the Sea Eagles didn't enter the premiership until 1947 they quickly formed a healthy rivalry against the Rabbitohs, losing to the foundation club in the 1951, 1968 and 1970 grand finals.

Manly's maiden title in 1972 was in part thanks to their recruitment, pinching John O'Neill, Ray Branighan and Bob Moses from Souths.

They also lured star forward Ian Roberts away from Redfern in 1990. Sea Eagles favourite son Glenn Stewart later went the other way, finishing his career in cardinal and myrtle in 2015.

In anticipation of another cracking encounter, has looked back at some of the best South Sydney-Manly matches over the years.

Rabbitohs legend Clive Churchill.
Rabbitohs legend Clive Churchill. ©NRL Photos

South Sydney v Manly – Top 10

Round 17, 1955 – The Little Master's toughness

Despite being the 1954 premiers, South Sydney languished in last place after 10 rounds and couldn't afford another loss if they were to reach the finals. They reeled off six straight wins before facing Manly.

After Immortal fullback Clive Churchill broke his wrist in his first tackle – staying on despite the pain – the Rabbitohs appeared done for the season as the Sea Eagles led 7-4 late in the match. 

However, lock Les Cowie scored a try in the dying moments to tie the game – giving Churchill a chance to kick the goal for a 9-7 win. He duly piloted the ball between the Redfern Oval sticks.

Having kept their streak intact, the Rabbitohs didn't lose another game and defended their title, beating Newtown in the grand final.

Grand final, 1968 – Souths salute at packed SCG

A crowd of 54,255 – the biggest ever for a Rabbitohs-Sea Eagles clash – piled into the Sydney Cricket Ground to watch this decider. 

South Sydney, the defending champions, compiled an 11-2 lead at half-time held on for a 13-9 win – their 18th premiership.

Eric Simms, who was only displaced as the Rabbitohs' all-time leading point-scorer by Adam Reynolds in August, booted five goals.

Full Match Replay: Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles - Grand Final, 1968

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Grand final, 1970 – Sattler's bravery

His jaw broken in three places after being hit by a swinging arm from Sea Eagles prop John Bucknall, Rabbitohs captain John Sattler ascended into rugby league folklore by leading his team to victory.

Sattler played 77 minutes with the injury and was famously chaired off the field following the 23-12 win at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The match is also notable for Eric Simms kicking a whopping four field goals, which were then worth two points. Manly great Bob Fulton kicked two drop-goals of his own. The next season, the NSWRL changed the value of a field goal to one point.

Extended Highlights: Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles

Minor prelim semi, 1984 – The biff turns the tide

Having beaten Canberra in a mid-week playoff to reach the finals, few expected South Sydney to threaten Manly, who boasted a stack of internationals including Paul Vautin and Kerry Boustead.

Rabbitohs player Mark Ellison remembered the Sea Eagles being "three to one-on favourites" – and they looked set to justify the bookmakers' view as they reached a 14-0 lead.

But a circuit-breaker in the form of a brawl – sparked by Souths prop Dean Rampling, who incited the stink with his coded call of "Henry" – put the Sea Eagles off their game.

That helped the Rabbitohs draw level at half-time before pulling away in the second half to complete a famous 22-18 victory.

Round 20, 1987 – Gibbs brilliance as Manly prevail

En route to the minor and major premiership, Manly overcame a 13-8 half-time deficit to beat South Sydney 16-13 in round 20.

The most memorable moment from the game is perhaps the chip-and-chase try scored by Sea Eagles second-rower Ron Gibbs.

Breaking the line in the first half after an inside pass from Paul Vautin, Gibbs – a former centre – kicked over the top before diving gracefully into the in-goal to catch the ball on the full.

Round 5, 1999 – Souths finally end Manly dominance

The Rabbitohs did it tough through the 1990s, finishing no higher than ninth (in 1994) as the club battled major financial problems.

South Sydney's struggles coincided with Ian Roberts leaving after winning the 1989 minor premiership to join the Sea Eagles. 

Front-rower Mark Carroll also defected from Redfern to the Northern Beaches but returned to the burrow for a swansong in 1999.

While Carroll didn't face Manly in round five, the Rabbitohs claimed a 28-24 win – ending a run of 11 straight defeats to their rivals.

Preliminary final, 2013 – Sea Eagles swoop from behind

Leading 14-0 after 13 minutes, South Sydney – who lost to Canterbury in the previous year's preliminary final – looked set to go one better and breeze past Manly into the decider.

But five consecutive Sea Eagles tries – including a freakish finish by winger David Williams – gave Geoff Toovey's team a 30-20 win.

Manly lost the grand final against the Roosters while the Rabbitohs got revenge in 2014, downing the Sea Eagles in the qualifying final on their way to winning a drought-breaking premiership.

Full Match Replay: South Sydney Rabbitohs v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (2nd Half) - Preliminary Final, 2013

Round 4, 2019 – DCE cool when it counts

A 35-metre field goal in golden point enhanced Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans's reputation for coming through in the clutch.

Despite losing fullback Tom Trbojevic to a hamstring injury in the second half, the Sea Eagles didn't concede a try after the 35th minute.

Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds kicked a penalty to tie the scores in the 71st minute but missed two shots at field goal.

Cherry-Evans had no such dramas, kicking a record fifth extra-time one-pointer to secure a 13-12 victory before a home crowd.

Extended Highlights: Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs

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Round 17, 2019 – Reynolds's redemption

A few months after their epic battle at Brookvale, the teams played out another thriller as Reynolds nailed a 74th-minute field goal.

While the Sea Eagles scored four tries to the Rabbitohs' three, two missed conversions from Reuben Garrick proved costly.

Manly levelled the game when Joel Thompson crossed in the 71st minute, but Reynolds atoned for his mistakes in round four by drilling a close-range one-pointer to claim a 21-20 win.

Extended Highlights: Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles

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Semi-final, 2019 – Controversy after Trbojevic sin-bin 

The third meeting between the sides in 2019 was most controversial after the critical sin-binning of Manly lock Jake Trbojevic prompted coach Des Hasler to say his team were "dudded".

Leading 26-20 with 13 minutes remaining in the sudden-death clash at ANZ Stadium, Trbojevic was dismissed for a professional foul having held back Dane Gagai as South Sydney made a break.

With the Sea Eagles down to 12 men, the Rabbitohs scored two tries and secured a 34-26 win to advance to the preliminary final.

"The call on Jake in the second half was a bit tough," Hasler said.

"Was it a penalty? I don't mind a penalty ... Did he deserve to get sent off? No, I didn't think he deserved to get sent off."

The NRL backed referee Gerard Sutton's call.

Extended Highlights: Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles

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