This is Part 3 of my series speaking with fans from all NRL teams to see what it’s really like to support their team. This week, the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
They are a heritage club from 1908, who found themselves kicked out into the cold in 1999. Reinstated in 2002, the Bunnies clawed their way back from the brink.
They are now a strong and financially secure club, who in 2014 had one of the most emotional premiership victories in NRL history.
Narrowly missing out on reaching the top this year after finishing runners up to the Penrith Panthers, Souths are getting ready to go one better in 2022 – without a beloved son and supercoach.
Their loyal red and green army have been with them every step of the way. I sat down to speak with two of those supporters, Garry and Maria.
They are husband and wife, both fanatical South Sydney Members who wear their hearts on their sleeves – and a little bunny rabbit emblem on their face masks.
I started our chat by ripping off the band-aid, asking how they felt about Adam Reynolds leaving the club.
“Devastated,” Maria began. “I understand that he wanted a longer contract, but I totally believe in looking after your juniors. They should have found a way to keep him.
“His goal kicking is outstanding, he broke Eric Simms’ record, he is such a good player, captain and leader – he will be very missed.”
Garry added: “I felt really sorry for him. He would have loved to have been a one-club man, and all Rabbitohs fans wanted to see that too.
“He handled the whole situation with total class, and I believe he will be an asset to the Broncos.”
I asked what the best and worst things about being a Souths fan were.
“The best thing is being part of such a passionate fan-base,” Garry said.
“We all come together and get behind the boys, we just love them. The worst thing – right now – is the pain of our grand final loss. Losing to the Panthers – that really hurts.”
Maria thinks being part of a club with such a wonderful culture is the best.
“Reynolds and Wayne Bennett had a lot to do with that, as well as Russell Crowe and Shane Richardson. It’s just such a great club to be a part of.
“The worst thing right now is the feeling of nervousness I have waiting to see how the new era unfolds, and how the team goes moving forward.
“Losing Reynolds, Bennett, Dane Gagai – all big shoes to fill. I hope Alex Johnston has a good centre to work outside of.”
Speaking of Bennett leaving the club, I asked the couple their thoughts on Jason Demetriou.
“He has worked under the watchful eye of the master for a long time now,” Maria began.
“He has a wonderful support network around him, and I think he will do well as head coach.”
As all good husbands do, Garry agreed with Maria.
“Demetriou will do great in the top job after being Bennett’s wingman for so long. He has learnt from the best.”
Last week, Australian billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes joined Russell Crowe and James Packer and became a co-owner of the club.
Both Maria and Garry are very happy with this.
“Given our history, I believe the more money that gets put into the club the better,” Garry said.
“The Rabbitohs are obviously a great investment now!”
I asked the couple their thoughts on Sam Burgess and everything that has been reported about him the past year.
“The judicial system found him not guilty,” Maria began, “so we all need to move on. We all make personal mistakes, and I would like to see him be able to move forward. I really hope he can be involved with the club again.
“Bennett mentioned him in his farewell address last month, saying how valuable Sam was to the team.”
Staying with the theme of the press, I asked what they thought about the media’s treatment of Latrell Mitchell after that Joey Manu incident.
“The media made out that Latrell’s tackle on Manu was deliberate. I still don’t think it was,” Maria stated.
“Yes, it was a nasty tackle, a tackle that went horribly wrong. I felt so sorry for how hurt Manu got. But the two of them are such good mates, there is no way Latrell would have intentionally tried to hurt him.
“The tackle was just replayed over and over – it became a witch hunt”.
Garry added: “It wasn’t handled well on the field at all. Even though it was not deliberate, it was high, and Latrell should have been sent off straight away.
“Had that happened, I don’t think it would have turned into the media circus it ended up becoming”.
With the club signing Anthony Milford for next season, I asked what they thought about him playing for the Rabbitohs.
Garry is hoping that he will turn a corner.
“Milford can run hot and cold, but hopefully being a part of our Souths family will bring out the best in him.”
Maria is not so optimistic.
“I am not a Milford fan, and I wasn’t very enthusiastic with his signing. I hope he is not another passenger like James Roberts.”
Ruling Roberts out after Maria’s last comment, I asked who their favourite Souths players were, past and present.
“Now that he has left, past for me is Adam Reynolds. Just an absolute champion,” she said.
“Currently, Tom Burgess. He has come a long way, improved out of sight. He has gone from being just another player to becoming a leader.”
Garry’s all-time favourite is John Sutton.
“He was an honest and reliable team player. I loved the way he carried himself. Seeing him raise the trophy in 2014 is one of my fondest memories. Right now, my favourite player is Campbell Graham.”
I asked who they thought were going to be the standouts for their team in 2022.
“I think Latrell Mitchell,” Garry said.
“He will have a lot to prove after this season, and I’m sure he feels very guilty for not being able to play in the grand final. He will have a huge season next year.”
Maria thinks Keaon Koloamatangi.
“He is going to be a superstar. He will be sensational next year.”
I asked what they were looking forward to most next season. Maria just can’t wait for it to start.
“I just love everything – getting out to our games, cheering on the boys – I can’t wait. The off-season just takes so long!”
Garry answered: “Winning the trophy of course. And beating the Panthers and the Roosters along the way.”
As always, we ended with my usual last question – if you could say anything to the team right now, what would it be?
Maria was straight to the point: “We came so close in 2021, let’s go out and do one better”.
Garry quoted Wayne Bennett: “There is no greater tribute in sport than to be called a winner, especially when you’ve known the feeling of a loss.
“We know what that feels like from this year, let’s not feel like that again. We can do it. We can be the champions”.
As we wrap up the chat, Maria says she could have kept talking about her team forever. The couple just love their Rabbitohs – they have so much enthusiasm and passion for them.
With the bitter taste of this year’s grand final defeat still lingering, Garry and Maria are hoping the boys can go one better next season and win their way to premiership glory.