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Crowe's call: Luke to ring Rabbitohs' sacred bell at grand final

Issac Luke will represent every past Rabbitohs player and the links to the club's 21 premierships, two-year fight for existence and transformation since readmission when he rings the 1908 foundation bell before Sunday night’s grand final.

The bell, which South Sydney co-owner Russell Crowe successfully bid $42,000 to buy in 1999 at a fundraising auction for the club’s fight against expulsion from the competition, has only been rung twice since their return.

"It is just a rule with that bell. The bell gets no use, it doesn’t even get seen by anybody, unless it’s a situation where South Sydney is in a grand final," Crowe told NITV's Over The Black Dot program on Wednesday night.

"Issac will represent all of the past players, the John Suttons and everyone else who can’t make it to Queensland.

"There wouldn’t be a single South Sydney player, whether they played with him or not, who wouldn’t understand and appreciate and support the selection of Issac Luke as the man to ring the foundation bell."

Used to signal the kick-off and full-time in South Sydney's inaugural premiership match against North Sydney at Birchgrove Oval in 1908, the bell was last rung before the 2014 premiership triumph over Canterbury.

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It was also rung in the Bunnies' return match after two seasons in exile against Sydney Roosters at the SFS in 2002.

Crowe shared the honour on that occasion with the late Albert Clift, the club’s timekeeper of 40 years who donated it for fightback campaign.

Rabbitohs great Bob McCarthy rang the bell before the 2014 grand final at ANZ Stadium, along with legendary former Bulldogs fullback Les Johns.

Russell Crowe and Albert Clift ring the bell to signal the Rabbitohs' return to the premiership in 2002.
Russell Crowe and Albert Clift ring the bell to signal the Rabbitohs' return to the premiership in 2002.

"There was an auction in 1999 to raise money for Souths, who had been temporarily taken out of the competition by News Corp, and I bought the bell," Crowe said.

"The bell started the first South Sydney game back in 1908, the first professional game, and I made a promise that it would never be rung unless South Sydney got back in the comp.

"In 2002, we were let back in the comp, we rung the bell and then I said it is never going to be rung again unless South Sydney get to play in a grand final. In 2014 the bell came out and we rung it. This is the same thing."

With this year’s grand final in Brisbane, Souths and the NRL have faced a number of logistical challenges in getting the bell from Crowe’s property in northern NSW to Brisbane due to COVID restrictions.

"It is very complex this week with logistics," Crowe said. "We still don’t know if it is being driven across the border or flown across the border because we are waiting on Queensland Health announcements tomorrow."

Crowe, who is in Thailand, also had to choose someone already in Queensland to ring the bell and the honour has fallen to Luke, who played 188 NRL matches for Souths between 2007 and 2015.

"We were talking about who is the best person to ring it and Issac Luke has been a soldier for the sport of rugby league," Crowe said.

"He represented his country, he played 43 Tests [for New Zealand], played 180-odd games for South Sydney, and it was a heartbreak when he left."

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Luke was suspended when Souths ended their 43-year premiership drought in 2014 for a lifting tackle in the preliminary final against Sydney Roosters on Sonny Bill Williams, who testified on his behalf at the judiciary.

"As people who follow the sport would know, that champion little player didn’t get the reward of being able to play in a grand final," Crowe said.

"It was taken away from him and I just actually had a reason to be watching that footage again this weekend of that tackle on Sonny Bill Williams in the preliminary final.

"Sonny Bill is twice the size of Issac and he landed on his elbow so to call that a dangerous tackle is ridiculous.

"When we talked about it I said 'if Issac is in Queensland I would like to give Issac the honour of ringing that bell because he deserves it'."