Today, the Sydney Cricket Ground is synonymous with Michael Clarke centuries and booming Lance Franklin punt kicks. But there was a time when the famous ground was home to the greatest game of all. From 1913 to 1987, Rugby League’s greatest moments happened on the hallowed turf of the SCG.
As is the case every time we return to the ground, we remember those memories that forged the game we know today. Most people are too young to really understand what it meant for a player to walk out onto the SCG for the Match of the Day, a Test match or a Grand Final. At that time, there was no greater honour than to play footy on the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Things change, and while the reasons for the players running out every weekend in 2014 have altered slightly since those good old days, nothing can diminish the desperation of a player wanting to do his best on the greatest stages the game can offer.
These professional athletes shouldn’t be expected to remember every legend and every classic encounter from decades ago; it simply isn’t fair. After all, the likes of 1960s greats Reg Gasnier and Johnny Raper wouldn’t have been thinking about the feats of pioneering superstar Dally Messenger when it was their turn to step out onto the pitch. So it’s up to us to keep the link alive between our past and the present.
In 1970, the decider at the SCG was played out between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and, yep, you guessed it, Manly-Warringah. In front of over 53,000 fans, Souths and Manly took to the field in what would soon be remembered as the day legendary Rabbitohs captain John Sattler played almost the entire match with a broken jaw.
After 10 minutes of play, Sattler was punched off the ball by Manly forward John Bucknall and refused to leave the field. Sattler should be remembered for much more than this match – he is one of the greatest front-rowers to ever play the game – but this story will always pop its head up whenever Souths get anywhere near a Grand Final or the SCG.
Sattler led a pack that included John O’Neill, Bob McCarthy and Ron Coote to a 23-12 victory.
Manly may have lost that day, but the Sea Eagles boasted a talented squad that would quickly evolve into the dominant force in the game. While Souths would win the 1970 and 1971 premierships, Manly went on to win the next two titles (the club’s first) and secure another two in 1976 and 1978.
In 1970, Manly were the underdogs and Souths the favourites. In fact, the Sea Eagles were yet to experience the sweet taste of Grand Final day glory. Over 40 years later, we return to the SCG for another showdown between the Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles, with the latter the favourites to win the match, the minor premiership and are most punters’ pick to win the big one.
Souths are the ones with everything to prove.
In 40 years’ time, it will be a lot easier to remember Greg Inglis, Sam Burgess, Brett Stewart and Daly Cherry-Evans than it is to remember the heroes of yesteryear now. With the internet at our fingertips, it takes seconds to bring up these stars’ greatest moments.
But how do we remember 1970?
It becomes tougher by the year and it’s nobody fault. That’s just the way it is. But on Friday night, if you can, take a second to picture Eric Simms in space instead of Inglis, Bob Fulton carving up the defence from the three-quarter line instead of Jamie Lyon, and John Sattler bashing and barging his way through 70-odd minutes of hell with a broken jaw.
The players on Friday night can pay their respects to history by making their own – and for Souths that means breaking the shackles and scoring a win that would set them up for the remaining rounds and a shot at the final day of the year.
It’s up to these players on Friday night to create something magical, something some other wannabe hack can write about 44 years from now.
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