24/05/2024

(Clockwise from top left) Campbell Graham, Adam Reynolds, Alex Johnston, Blake Taaffe, Keaon Koloamatangi and Cameron Murray. Photo: South Sydney Rabbitohs - Twitter

In Sunday's NRL Grand Final six South Sydney Rabbitohs will run out onto the field for the club they played junior level football for.

On Sunday six South Sydney Rabbitohs will run onto the field representing the South Sydney District Junior League in the 2021 NRL Grand Final.

Famous names have played juniors in the South Sydney District Junior League but only a select few have had the honour to reach the Grand Final for any club let alone the Rabbitohs, but six of the selected seventeen will don the cardinal and myrtle stripes for the 2021 Grand Final having grown up in the junior league.

Playing for La Perouse United, Alexandria Rovers, Mascot Jets, Coogee Randwick Wombats, Maroubra Lions and Kensington United, the former Souths juniors have a connection to the club and each other that has become unique to Rugby League in Australia.

Alex Johnston and Adam Reynolds have played together for South Sydney since 2014, both playing in the Grand Final winning side in the same year alongside club legend and now development coach John Sutton.

All three are former La Perouse boys, and both Johnston and Reynolds have had to consider leaving the club, with Johnston negotiating a two-year contract extension in 2020 and Reynolds making the decision to leave the club and join the Brisbane Broncos in 2022.

Speaking to the media earlier in the week Johnston acknowledged he wanted to play his best game for the outgoing legend as well as the fans.

“Adam Reynolds is just a legend of the club, to play the last seven or eight years that it’s been with him, it’s been an absolute journey and an absolute pleasure to play our second GF together as well,” Johnston said.

“It’s something I’ll never forget and hopefully personally I’ll play my best footy for him but for myself as well, for the club and all the fans.”

The 2014 Grand Finalists aren’t the only former La Perouse players starting on Sunday with youngster Blake Taaffe in the number one jersey, breaking an NRL record just starting in the Grand Final.

The 22-year-old enters the match as the least experienced player to play in a Grand Final, making his sixth start, after previously playing in seven games this season.

Despite his inexperience, Taaffe’s role has increased with each match he’s played, stepping up into the fullback position despite initially being considered a successor to Reynolds as the halfback next year and taking over the conversion duties last week due to the captain’s groin injury.

In the preliminary final against Manly Taaffe managed to tap the ball on to Johnston to help the winger score a try in the 79th minute.

Reflecting on the moment Johnston admitted that it was special that they are able to play for the club let alone in the Grand Final.

“It’s obviously pretty special two La Pa [La Perouse United] boys playing together for Souths but playing in the GF together and him getting that ball to me.

“It was a pretty good connection, [a] pretty good combo that we’ve worked on over the last few weeks and hopefully, we get it done again this week.”

Photo: NRL – Website

The fourth South Sydney Junior that will line up on Sunday is Campbell Graham, playing for Coogee Wombats and Maroubra Lions in his youth, the 22-year-old has been a part of the South Sydney squad since 2017 playing his first match just weeks out from the HSC exam.

Graham’s dedication to the club and playing in the NRL was on show early when he declined the opportunity to be a part of Scotlands’ squad for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, despite being selected to ensure he was able to get a full offseason of training.

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If there was ever a pair that had both a connection to the club and one another it is Cameron Murray and Keaon Koloamatangi who played together for the Mascot Jets as early as under-sevens, a year they won the competition together.

Now they play in their first NRL Grand Final together and photos are resurfacing of the pair holding up the trophy alongside other Mascot Jets teammates.

When asked about the image Murray recalled that it was the first time they’d donned a Rabbitohs jersey as players.

“It’s pretty special actually, I haven’t seen that photo in a while and looking at it now hit home pretty hard. You kind of reflect a little bit on how far you’ve come,” the 23-year-old said.

“It’s pretty special to be able to share it with Keaon [Koloamatangi] from the under-sevens that was the first time we wore a South Sydney jersey together and to be here now in the red and green with the bunny on our heart together running out in the grand final for two kids that grew up in the junior system.

“I’m trying not to think too much about it, I get a little bit too hyped and a little bit emotional about it all, to have my focus off the process and everything I need to do.

“I’ll leave that reflection and all that stuff for hopefully when we’re sitting in the sheds Sunday night with a victory.”

Outgoing captain Adam Reynolds grew up not only playing in the junior league but supporting the South Sydney Rabbitohs during trying times, not only with the club underperforming but briefly being removed from the NRL and its subsequent reinstatement in 2001 for the 2002 Premiership season.

Reynolds isn’t just a former La Perouse player, playing for three clubs across his junior years namely Alexandria Rovers and Kensington United.

31-year-old Reynolds spoke about support for the club continuing no matter the result.

“You always dream of your club winning grand finals, obviously, there was a few rough years there but we support our team no matter what, win, lose or draw, we walked away disappointed but we were proud of the efforts of the players.

“It takes a lot to win one game in the NRL let alone go through a full season and be successful. We’re always supportive.

“It’s an honour and privilege to sit on the other side of the fence and captain this club. I know what it means to everyone on the other side of the fence supporting the team.”

Familiar with the homeland for the Rabbitohs, Redfern and Waterloo, Reynolds is going out in his final game looking to win his second premiership not only for the club but for those supporting the side who have been impacted by the ongoing lockdowns in Sydney.

“It’s obviously a proud area, Waterloo/Redfern, [there’s a] high indigenous population they love their footy, they love their team, a lot of them are Souths fans, there’s a lot of Greeks that live in Redfern, a lot of everything really,” He said.

“For us growing up, it was all about supporting our team, hoping that we’ve done well on the game, for me to be in this position now and hopefully win the grand final, it obviously means a lot to those people, some of them live for footy on the weekends and it’s all they’ve got.

“If we can make their life a little bit easier through our performance – doing them proud out on the field it obviously means a lot to us.”

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1 thought on “NRL Grand Final 2021: Pride of South Sydney – six players to represent SSDJL

  1. Thanks Jacqui for that mighty article with its many insights. The photos of Keaon and Cameron together as kids is wonderful. An impressive piece by any sports writer, but from a Melbourne journo on League! You take the cake.

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