By STEVE MASCORD
LOTE Tuqiri’s face is ringed with digital voice recorders. He has a black premiership t-shirt over his sweat-soaked cardinal and myrtle South Sydney jersey. He admits retirement is tempting.
And then the dual international, who played in a grand final for Brisbane 14 years ago, is momentarily stuck for words. He’s trying to explain how South Sydney fans have made him feel part of this, this…..
“Movement,” Tuqiri says finally. “That’s what it is.”
We all think we know why South Sydney’s drought breaking premiership victory, finishing in a 30-6 grand final win over Canterbury at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, was so transcendent.
We all have different theories.
For some of us, it was all about Sam Burgess, chaired off by his team-mates in an unintentional re-enactment of how John Sattler left the SCG after a comparable feat of bravery 44 years earlier. One with a fractured cheekbone, one a shattered jaw.
Sattler’s coach that day was Clive Churchill. Clive’s widow, Joyce, presented Burgess with the man of the match award struck in Churchill’s honour, making him the first Souths player to win it.
Sam told in the lead-up to the game that his mother Julie had once mentioned she wanted to live by the sea. Now her four sons were big name athletes in one of the world’s foremost seaside cities, and they had granted her wish, although Sam was about to leave for rugby union.
Maybe we think it was those 43 years since the last Rabbitohs premiership; Souths had not won one in the colour television era. In 1971, most people back at the leagues club listened to a radio commentary of the 16-10 win over St George, with a transistor positioned next to a PA microphone.
Perhaps you see it as a triumph of the public will; the bunnies were excluded from the competition for two years and 50,000 people marched to save them in 1999. Maybe it was win for those people over big business – some will never forget News Limited’s involvement in the decision to exterminate the bunnies.
“We finally beat you,” a fan tweeted to Rupert Murdoch early on Monday morning.
Every Hollywood script needs an A-List actor. Russell Crowe’s takeover of the club he supported as a child, and the return on grand final day of the estranged George Piggins, who led that 1999 march, entranced tens of thousands.
And maybe the fairytale of the people involved is enough for you, Shane Richardson moving from Penrith for “a challenge”, Wayne Bennett turning the Bunnies down, Michael Maguire starting from scratch, Greg Inglis aborting a move to Brisbane when no-one met him at the airport.
There was Issac Luke, forced to watch from the sidelines following a suspension (“He shook hands with the judiciary at the end of the hearing and said ‘this is about the team’,” Maguire opined) but still photographed in a playing jersey at fulltime, his replacement Api Koroisau who won a premiership in his final game at the club.
John Sutton, long-suffering Rabbitohs lifer? “I can’t describe how happy I am – it’s been a long journey,” he said. “When Madge first wanted me to be captain, I wasn’t too keen.”
And also Alex Johnston, the kid who played Greg Inglis in a TV commercial, Ben Te’o, Sam Burgess’s flatmate also off to rugby union at fulltime. “Sometimes it takes decisions – Sam leaving and Ben leaving,” said Maguire.
“It’s tough to take when you first get that but they want to do it for each other and I think that’s been a big driving force.”
The list goes on. Crowe is probably lobbying for funding for the movie as you read this.
But Lote Tuqiri is right. What South Sydney’s victory represents more than anything is a movement, a cause, a triumph of the collective over almost every conceivable obstacle.
There are more noble causes, I guess: world peace, freedom from hunger, saving the whales.
But Souths have been a cause for all the reasons above – and more – since they were kicked out of the premiership.
Strip away the hype and machismo and most football premierships are just that; a bunch of well played but exceedingly brave men finishing ahead of 15 other groups of same.
It’s not your imagination, it’s not hype and hyperbole to say this one was different. It was.
It’s been a class war for what was once a down-at-heel part of Sydney. It has represented the struggle of indigenous people in that city and nationwide.
It’s been a banner under which those who felt marginalised, ignored or victimised could march – for 15 years now. While the rabbits were out of the premiership, cab drivers would refuse to pick up at Murdoch’s Fox Studios.
But much more than people need a fullback to love, a media baron to despise, an old bell to revere and that black and white photo of Satts in 1970, they just need something to believe in, something to fight for, a reason to get up tomorrow.
Anything; a cause – or as Lote referred to it – a movement. Souths were the perfect storm of nostalgia and emotion. We live in an era of mass terror, mass stupidity, mass fear.
On the weekend we got mass elation.
“The last couple of minutes on the field were pretty emotional,” said Burgess, whose agent Chris Caisley slipped into the back of the press conference room as he sat down.
“I had the pain, I had the knock to my head, the feeling of being victorious. It overcame me at the time. Just to share the moment with the guys on the field, it was really emotional, the feelings that run through your body at that moment in time.
“Everyone who’s been involved in turning this club around …. I guess that’s why I feel emotional.
“It was tears of joy, certainly.”
Souths knew they had ridden the crest of a wave. They were going to share their success with as many people as possible.
“Ever since I’ve been here, we’ve spoken about the history of Souths,” said Maguire. “It’s part of what comes with Souths – Satts and Ronny Coote and Bob McCarthy. I could go on and on and on with all of those players.
“To recognise the past is a big part of what builds a club and they’re as much a part of this, along with everyone else who’s played for Souths. The community … it’s just been a ride.”
Shane Richardson is the first chief executive or club secretary to win premierships at different clubs. He watched the game with his son Brent and good friend, former Essendon CEO Ian Robson, from the players enclosure.
At fulltime, Richardson received 163 test messages from around the world – not including the two friends who flew in for the game from the United States and his brother who arrived the previous evening from Barcelona.
“What stands out in my mind?” he tells RLW. “Seeing the looks on the faces of Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess. I had never seen them cry before.
“It wasn’t just joy or relief, it was elation.
“I looked out at some 50,000 people and you know what? In the past people might say you didn’t know them. I knew them all. If they are members, I have their email addresses, I know their names, I know who they are.
“That was a very special feeling.”
As has become customary, the South Sydney players took the premiership trophy to the centre of ANZ Stadium around midnight on Sunday. They formed a circle, their chants echoed through the empty arena and champagne sprayed everywhere.
Richardson wasn’t there. Long gone. He had to make sure Souths Juniors was ready for the party, that security was tight and there was no trouble.
Next day, he was in his office by 9am. There was a fan day, a tickertape parade and the Red & Green Ball to organise. This is just the start for Souths, not the destination, as far as he is concerned.
“Souths Juniors was amazing after the game,” he enthused. “There was no trouble. What is the best way to describe it?
“I’ll tell you: you know that black and white film of the girl skipping down the street at the end of the second world war?
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK