50-year blood feud fuelled by poaching, violence and hatred

2021 NRL, featured, League, NRL, Rugby League

South Sydney didn’t waste any time expressing their feelings as soon as the full-time siren blared registering Manly’s comprehensive win over the Roosters to set up a grand final eliminator with the Rabbitohs on Friday night.

There was nothing subtle about it either…

“Don’t say it don’t say it don’t say it don’t say it Don’t say it don’t say it don’t say it don’t say it Don’t say it don’t say it don’t say it don’t say it… WE HATE @SeaEagles”

There is no love lost between the two old feisty adversaries. It’s a rivalry built on steroids, the enmity between the clubs and their fans palpable and festering for over a half-century to this very day.

Back to the bad old days of John Sattler’s broken jaw, George Piggins’ furious head-butting, eye-gouging slug-fest with Malcolm Reilly and a real sore point for Souths aficionados – those audacious player poaching raids by Ken Arthurson.

There may not be overt signs of a feud in these days of reveal-all TV camera angles, slo-mo replays, referee on-field reports and judiciary oversight, but Rabbitoh fans of a certain vintage have lingering memories of more blood-curdling times.

Souths were the dominant team in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They had turned back the Sea Eagles in the 1968 grand final, a tight decider, a try apiece with Eric Simms kicking five goals from seven attempts proving the difference in a hard-fought 13-9 victory.

But it was two years later that the blue touch paper was lit. Souths had downed Manly in the major semi-final 22-15 but the grand final was to have an explosive sequel, forever remembered as Bunnies’ skipper Sattler playing for all but three minutes with a broken jaw.

Sattler was king-hit in the opening minutes by Manly prop John Bucknall, with a blow that fractured his jaw in three places.

Sattler recalled the incident: “I prepared to make my way back into the defensive line when Bucknall hit me with a brutal swinging forearm. It was a blow I simply never saw. My knees buckled, then Bucknall jolted my jaw again as he manhandled me, before I staggered back into the defensive line.”

Incredible as it sounds, Satts played on to lead the Rabbitohs to a 23-12 victory. Battered Bucknall didn’t last out the first half trudging off with an injured shoulder as the rest of the vaunted Souths forward pack exacted revenge.

Some 40 years later Sattler discovered that Ron Willey, Manly’s coach in 1970, had instructed Bucknall to go after him in that grand final.

“I told Bucknall to get out there and get you off the field,” Willey told Sattler. “I told John, ‘If the opportunity comes, make sure you take John Sattler out’. I’m sorry, Satts, I didn’t know the damage it would do. I have to put my hand up for that.”

That was the fifth time Manly had finished runners-up and club supremo Ken Arthurson was hellbent on ensuring that his Sea Eagles would not settle for second best, again, so he embarked on an ambitious player recruitment drive.

Arko knew where he had to shop. Souths had a winning culture, winning four of the previous five grand finals.

Among his early targets were Rabbitohs trio Bob Moses, Ray Branighan and John O’Neill. The club’s fortunes began to change, Manly won back-to-back titles in 1972-73 and again later that decade in 1976 and 1978 while Souths waned – they didn’t win another grand final until 2014.

It would become another source of angst for the Souths faithful as the Sea Eagles began to rule the roost – they won 12 of their next 13 encounters over the intervening five years. Rabbitoh fans looked on sullenly as Manly turned the tables with Branighan and O’Neill the focal points.

“I was only concerned with getting Manly to win a premiership. No one twisted their arms or forced them to come,” Arthurson reminisced with the Daily Telegraph recently.

“They made the decision. I didn’t want to be running down the bottom of the ladder. We wanted to win it and that’s what we set out to do.”

In future years, Souths stars Tom Mooney, Tony Melrose, Ian Roberts, Craig Field, Mark Carroll and Dylan Walker all headed to Manly.

In the midst of Manly’s lavish team rebuilding there was another flashpoint in the bad blood between Manly and Souths. It came in a Round 18 meeting on July 21, 1973 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

I was there and witnessed one of rugby league’s most ferocious one-on-one slugfests, one that left a stunned silence given its unrelenting intensity and brutality.

George Piggins, the pugnacious Souths hooker, did not take a backward step as he and Manly’s English kingpin Malcolm Reilly ripped into each other for what seemed like minutes as play went on upfield.

In his biography ‘Never Say Die’ Piggins gives his side of the brutal confrontation.

“We had hold of each other at that point and I said to Reilly, ‘If we carry it on, we’ll be off the paddock.’ ‘Yeah,’ he said.

“I relaxed my hold and next thing he let me have it – a big Liverpool kiss (headbutt). Then it was really on. I grabbed him and came up hard with my head in close. I had a bit of strength and I was able to fling him to the ground and lob on top of him.

“I am a street fighter. It’s win at all costs. Anyhow, it got a lot worse when he shoved a finger in my eye – I don’t know whether it was deliberate or not, it could have been accidental.

“But I saw red. ‘Oh, you want to gouge, you bastard!’ I yelled at him. I went straight for one of his eyes.”

Referee Laurie Bruyeres sent both players off and appeared before the judiciary on charges of head-butting. Both were suspended for three weeks.

Things aren’t as primeval between Souths and Manly these days, thankfully, but the tension and feeling still remain as both teams shape up in their 162nd showdown this Friday night.

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