Pages Navigation Menu

Rageing Rabbits

Birth of South Sydney Rabbitohs

Birth of South Sydney Rabbitohs

The game of rugby league was born on 29 August 1895 at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, in Yorkshire, UK. It was a breakaway competition from the ultra-conservative, but dictatorial, English Rugby Union. ‘Rugby’ was originally played by University and Public School men who could afford to pay their own expenses and time off work if injured.

However the game gradually appealed to the hard-bitten miners and manual workers of the English North. The dispute about payment and compensation grew, culminating in a crisis meeting in 1894 when two Yorkshire delegates put forward the following motion at the General Meeting of the English Rugby Union: ‘That players be allowed compensation for bona-fide loss of time’.

It was beaten by 146 votes. Had it been sanctioned there would probably have been no rugby league today. Rebellion spread in the North, and at the historic meeting in 1895 at Huddersfield, the Northern Rugby Football Union was formed, with 21 clubs involved.

A ceiling of six shillings for loss-of-time compensation was applied, and by 1897 the scoring system and rules began to change. Three points for a try and two points for a goal of any sort, and by June 1906 the number of players in a team was reduced to 13, after a 12-a-side had been tried and rejected. Rugby League was now ready to go in Australia.

The game grew in popularity, and when influential men like Jim Giltinan and Victor Trumper convinced rugby’s best player Herbert Henry (‘Dally’) Messenger to join, rugby league was underway. Nine new metropolitan clubs were formed in early 1908: Glebe, Newtown, South Sydney, North Sydney, Eastern Suburbs, Western Suburbs, Balmain, Annandale and Newcastle.

South Sydney District Rugby League Football Club was born, officially, in a heatwave, on the night of Friday 17 January 1908 at a packed Redfern Town Hall. On the stage were James Joseph Giltinan and Victor Trumper, who moved that a South Sydney Rugby League club be formed. It was passed unanimously, and the following positions were elected:

Patron: J.C Watson. President: Henry Clement Hoyle. Joint Hon, Secretaries: F. Peters and P. Fallon. Treasurer: Samuel George Ball. Delegate to the NSWRL: Arthur ‘Ash’ Hennessy. Committee: W. Cann, E. ‘Son’ Fry, J. Cochran, J. Davis, J. McGrath and C. Hill.

About three months earlier, Hennessy called for a meeting at his home in 17 Chapman St, Surry Hills. Only four men attended: Hennessy, S.G. Ball, Johnny McGrath and Billy Cann. They resolved to whip up support around the district for the new game, culminating with the 17 January meeting.

S.G. Ball became Secretary in 1910, staying in the position until February 1966, and Hennessy was Souths’ first coach and captain. George Ball used to tell the story that some members of the South Sydney Rugby Union Club used to sell rabbits – hawking them through the streets of Redfern with the cry ‘rabbito!’.It was said they wore the same jerseys when they were selling the rabbits as they did when they were playing for Souths. Gradually the name caught on. It became official in 1959 when the rabbit logo appeared on the jersey for the first time.

South Sydney won the first ever premiership contested in 1908, and to date have won 21 premierships and been runner-up on 13 occasions. Hence Souths have contested a premiership decider 34 times in rugby league’s 108 year history, roughly one-third.

Leave a Comment