Rugby League’s oldest and fiercest rivalry is in the midst of one of its most dynamic eras in generations.
Formed just a week apart, the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters are the only two remaining clubs playing at the Rugby League’s top level in Australia and the rivalry remains as strong as it did in 1908 when the Rabbitohs claimed a two-point victory over their rivals in the Grand Final.
The infamous Book of Feuds commissioned by Russell Crowe in 2008 details the Rabbitohs’ rivalries between all clubs, is often thrown down like a gauntlet in the modern era to emphasise the importance of a match to the club, and there is no match up that carries the same weight as a game against the Roosters.
The Inner Sanctum spoke to long time Roosters supporter Dean Kelly on his perspective of the rivalry, and how hard it is to describe to outsiders.
“There’s something different from this rivalry, it’s hard to describe it. Maybe it’s because everyone is neighbours so to speak, there’s just that day to day interaction and these matches mean a hell of a lot.
“There’s nothing like it in League, I know there are big rivalries like Canterbury and Parramatta for example but with all due respect to those guys, they don’t have the heritage that these two clubs here do.
“From a Roosters perspective they do mean a hell of a lot and maybe they mean more than we show on the outside because I can speak for myself on the inside, I get a kick out of seeing Souths lose.”
The two clubs have fought against one another but remained together throughout Rugby League’s history in Australia. Both clubs decided to remain in the ARL rather than moving over to the Super League in 1997.
When it was looking like South Sydney would be removed from the NRL, Kelly recalled that despite the two clubs’ disdain for one another Roosters fans got behind the petitions and rallies for the Rabbitohs.
“I remember Souths fans at Roosters home games in ‘98 and ‘99 asking for signatures on their petitions about the NRL criteria and I know personally, Roosters fans who marched with South Sydney fans when South Sydney were expelled from the competition.
“Even though we crack wise, and make no mistake I genuinely dislike Souths, there is still human decency involved”
Over the years the Rabbitohs and Roosters have had several players switch between the two clubs, the most notable faces in recent years has been Souths Fullback Latrell Mitchell and Sydney halfback Luke Keary.
With fans often lamenting about players transferring to their main rival rather than going to another club with the capital to pay for the contract many of these players’ skill demands.
Because of this attention will be on Mitchell and Keary’s performances every time they face their former clubs to cement the fact that they are the best in the league in their respective positions.
It wasn’t until 2005, three years after South Sydney returned to the competition that the Rabbitohs managed to beat the Roosters 17-16, a match burned into the memories of Souths and Roosters fans alike.
It was a loss that eventually had to come, but Kelly remembers it as a turning point that turned the rivalry into an even contest once more.
“We had taken Souths for granted presuming you guys would always be there, we’ll always be here. That was taken away, so it was definitely fun when you came back.
“But 2005 was really important. It was deflating, it felt embarrassing.
“A different sense of embarrassment to the final round defeat last year, but we’ve also put some scores on you guys as well it’s not a good feeling.
“It was a real turning point because I think that really stimulated South Sydney, far beyond just the night.
“From memory, it was a wet night, towards the end of the season, so Souths weren’t going to make the finals. It hurt us we didn’t make the finals that year. So I think that was the turning point about ‘okay so Souths are slowly getting their act together… interesting.’
“So I think it was the turning point because it went from you’re an easy two wins each year, to they’re getting their act together, we’ve got to get ours together.”
Since 2008 the rivalry has morphed into a genuine contest between the two clubs with South Sydney winning nine and the Roosters winning 12 of the 21 games the clubs have played against one another.
In premiership years both clubs have been hurdles for one another during the finals series and it is only a matter of time before the Roosters and Rabbitohs play one another in a Grand Final for the first time since 1935. In 1937 South Sydney were the runners up to Sydney’s premiership, however, there was no Grand Final.
Both teams are well within the premiership window and hungry to take the top prize in 2021 and nothing would be sweeter to down their old foe in a Grand Final for the ages.