7th August 2007
The story of the South Sydney Rabbitohs couldn't be made up. A once great club, the most successful ever in terms of premierships, falls on hard times and is kicked out of rugby league's elite competition. An uprising led by a passionate community and celebrity fans gets them back in the game before the club falters again, only to be resurrected once more by the combined clout of an Oscar-winning actor, Russell Crowe, and entrepreneur Peter Holmes a Court. They bring the means for a rebirth, paying $3 million to buy the club. But, as shown in the upcoming six-part ABC documentary series, South Side Story, money wasn't everything.
For Crowe, the club embracing the notion of love and togetherness was his highest priority. In a moving address, the actor tells the team how together they will bring Souths back to being the force the club once was. "The thing that will make the difference is love ... accepting the brotherhood," Crowe says, with as much if not more conviction than his character Maximus displayed in Gladiator. In Holmes a Court, the club not only got a co-owner but a new executive chairman with noted business credentials. He said cynical comments from outside the club about the motives for he and Crowe's takeover prompted him to invite cameras into the club. "We've got thick skins, been called names all our lives, but there has been so much misinformation around about us and the club," Holmes a Court said. "We've opened ourselves us for scrutiny, sure, but that's how much we believe in the club." Filmmaker David Alrich came to the Souths story not as a fan - he prefers rugby union - but as a storyteller who got caught up in a ripping yarn. He takes viewers back to the start of the Souths club in 1908, to the blokes who would catch rabbits and hawk them for a bit of extra cash in the working class Sydney suburbs, the 20 premierships and the way the club brought a community together. It's all to bring context to the present.
Holmes a Court said watching the early episodes of the series made him realise why he took Souths on in the first place. "It showed me that we had no choice. The club was in that bad a state that it chose us. We had the capacity to do it, so we jumped on board." Alrich said Crowe was initially resistant to be interviewed for the film but eventually came around. With Crowe and Holmes a Court have come Armani suits for the players and the axing of cheerleaders. But despite their high profiles, the pair's primary focus has been on banding together the playing group, led by coach Jason Taylor, and involving the community.
Backrower Dean Widders said it's working. He said the changed face of the club has made it a most appealing home for top players. This fact has been proven with this year's big name signings of Roy Asotasi, David Kidwell, Nigel Vagana and of course, Widders. He said the influence of Crowe on the players shouldn't be underestimated either. "We've got an amazing coaching staff and a team that really wants to do well for each other," Widders said. "Where Russ comes in is on a personal level. He's really approachable, he lets people come to him and is never overbearing," Widders said. "They want Souths to be the club where players want to stay, and when they leave they leave as a better person."
Souths is not just a new toy for Crowe and Holmes a Court, as some critics have suggested. Holmes a Court told Alrich during the making of the film that, with Souths, emotion had come into play with his business dealings for the first time. "When he said that, it hit home what the club meant to him," said Alrich. The final episode of South Side Story hasn't been completed. It will tell how the team has gone after the regular season.
Having not won a premiership since 1971, Souths haven't made the finals since 1989. They now sit on 20 points, one place out of the eight teams who will get a finals berth. Five of the top eight are just two points ahead. So in sporting parlance, Souths have it all to play for. "We can't take too much out of the wins or the losses will kill us," Holmes a Court said. "But we're putting ourselves in a good position with good players and a solid business base, so it's looking up."
South Side Story begins Tuesday, August 7 at 8pm on the ABC.
South Side Story DVD
15th October 2007
The DVD of the ABC-TV and Beyond Productions documentary South Side Story goes on sale tomorrow Tuesday October 16. The six-documentary is currently being shown on Versus cable network in the US. Pre-order yours now on-line at www.souths.com.au or come into the Rabbitohs merchandise store at 104 George St Redfern. The DVD is on sale exclusively at our store tomorrow for $29.95. A special limited edition of Members Only copies are available only online or at the merchandise store for $39.95. Get in quick before stocks run out.
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