Profile: South Sydney Rabbitohs (1908-)

It feels right to start this blog with Souths, since they’re definitely the most mythological team in the NRL, so much so that it’s hard to say anything about them objectively. What I can say is that, despite the fact that Roosters are attached to Sydney, Souths are the definitive inner city team. In some ways, that reflects the gentrification of the inner city and the shift of urban life south – if the CBD has a team now, it’s the Tahs, rather than an NRL team – but it’s also because South Sydney is probably the closest Sydney comes to an urban core in the American sense, thanks to the high-density, high-rise public housing blocks that are some of the most dedicated Souths strongholds, as well as the breeding-ground for some of the most talented Souths players, such as Adam Reynolds, one of my favourite halfbacks in the NRL (why hasn’t he been picked for Origin yet?). Add to that the fact that there’s a bit of an overlap between Souths and local gang culture – captain John Sutton is a member of the Bra Boys – and the Souths team feels closer to an inner-city tribe than that of the Tigers, the Sea Eagles, or any of the other teams close to the city. Of course, the fantasy of watching sport – especially a sport with a lot of teams in one city, like NRL – is that every player comes from the area they’re representing, but that fantasy is at its most potent and convincing when it comes to Souths, since something about the team’s storied history seems to induce players to give their all, even or especially when they’re not from the area, with even the Burgess brothers working on the field like they’d lived in Redfern all their lives. It feels right, then, that G.I. is the poster boy for Souths, since the team has a kind of militaristic patriotism to their region that’s even more striking in that the catchment area for the team is actually pretty large, extending far beyond the Cleveland Street-Regent Street matrix where there seems to be a poster of the team in every restaurant and pub. Souths Juniors, for example, is planted right at the point where Kensington starts to disperse into Maroubra and Anzac Parade becomes a divided road – the very limits of the inner city – and yet it’s as central to the Souths empire as Redfern Oval. Yet, despite all that, Souths is the most international team as well, the team most available as an international entertainment venue, with every Russell Crowe film of the last fifteen years feeling like a Rabbitohs allegory, and Tom Cruise himself a dedicated fan of the franchise. And perhaps that’s the magic of Souths as a team – whenever they’re playing, let alone winning, Redfern seems to expand to fill the whole world – which gives them an incredible, cinematic presence on the field that even their opposition – even their staunchest enemies – seem to find pretty infectious.

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