Russell Crowe hails his South Sydney gladiators

The Sydney News.Net Monday 6th October, 2014

A first National Rugby League (NRL) premiership victory in 43 years left many South Sydney Rabbitohs supporters feeling highly emotional - and none more so than Hollywood superstar Russell Crowe.

A lifelong South Sydney fan, Crowe played a significant part in the club's remarkable journey from NRL expulsion to Australian rugby league powerhouse. And Sunday night's win made it special for Crowe, reports Xinhua.

Along with businessman Peter Holmes Court, the Academy Award winning actor bought a US $2.6 million majority stake in the embattled club in 2006 and set about returning South Sydney to the summit of the NRL.

Nine years later the Souths have delivered a long-awaited 21st premiership, scoring a comprehensive 30-6 victory over the Canterbury Bulldogs on Sunday night.

Crowe was savouring the moment, which he said was as satisfying as any in his acting career.

"I would say it's a pretty good night," Crowe said after watching the Rabbitohs lift the Provan-Summons Trophy in front of 84,000 fans at ANZ Stadium.

"There's a deep, deep satisfaction. This is a team sport and there have been a lot of people involved over the last nine years and a lot of effort gone in.

"It's a grand reward to those who stepped up to the plate and said we weren't to put up with Souths being a losing club anymore. "

Standing proudly as Australia's most successful rugby league side with 20 premiership victories at the conclusion of the 1971 season, the club began to encounter off-field problems.

Throughout the 1970s, a financial crisis engulfed the club. A "Save Our Souths" campaign, which collected donations, kept the Rabbitohs afloat for the best part of the next decade, but towards the end of the century, South Sydney's problems would deepen.

On-field troubles also hampered the Rabbitohs' hopes of survival, as the club failed to make a single finals appearance in 18 years.

Then, in 1999, the NRL made the shock decision to fold the club and exclude them from the competition. A series of legal battles and widespread public rallies, led by high profile club supporters, such as Crowe, ensued. Three years later and South Sydney were reinstated ahead of the 2002 campaign.

Three last placed finishes in five years followed, as the club's lingering problems continued. That was until Crowe's acquisition of the Rabbitohs in 2006.

Best known for his role in the Oscar-winning movie 'Gladiator', Crowe's South Sydney were inspired by a gladiator-type performance of their own from big forward, Sam Burgess. The 25-year-old Englishman won the Clive Churchill Medal for best on ground after a brave display in which he shattered his cheekbone in the opening seconds of the clash.

But that did not deter Burgess, who went on to star with a team-high 22 carries and 30 tackles. It was a performance that, according to Crowe, typified South Sydney's resilience in the face of adversity.

"I met him (Burgess) when he was 20 years old and he had this ambition and I noticed what that level of ambition was," Crowe said.

"I call him the sparkly-eyed man. He can be as hard as he wants on the football field, but gracious off it. He's carved his name deep in the history of rugby league."

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