Origianlly published in the daily telegraph.
One of my favourite childhood memories is attending the 1971 Grand Final with my mother.
We sat on the Hill at the Sydney Cricket Ground and watched my beloved South Sydney Rabbitohs beat St George 30-6.
I was eight years old and couldn’t see much at first.
But some South Sydney supporters already well into the process of emptying their eskies noted my situation and hoisted me on to their shoulders for most of the game.
My Mum used to laugh as she recounted not seeing much of the match while she watched with trepidation her young son being tossed into the air in celebration any time South Sydney scored.
In the 50 years since, Souths have made the Grand Final only twice.
This year’s season has also rekindled memories of my time as a director on South Sydney’s board 20 years ago, when we won our battle to have our club readmitted into the National Rugby League.
Our long struggle against exclusion illustrated how rugby league is more than just a sport.
It’s about community. People barrack for football teams because it gives them a sense of belonging. Rugby league provides a point of reference to our families, our community and our culture.
Twenty years ago more than 100,000 people marched in the streets to demand that our team regain our right to play footy.
Their message was that they mattered. Their values mattered. Their shared history mattered and was worthy of respect.
The South Sydney faithful simply refused to abandon a heritage they could trace all the way back to 1908, when we won the very first premiership against Easts.
In 2014, I repeated my childhood Grand Final journey, this time as a parent, when I took my son Nathan to see Souths defeat Canterbury.
I arrived with childhood memories of Sims, McCarthy and Sattler, and left carrying precious shared memories of the new legends of Inglis, Burgess and Reynolds.
Such memories endure. They speak of our connection to those around us.
On Sunday, Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium will be off limits for most True Believers of South Sydney and Penrith because of the COVID pandemic. This will exacerbate their frustration and anger at the Morrison Government’s failure to get it right on vaccines and quarantine.
Souths’ fans, as well the Penrith faithful, who have loyally followed their team since 1967, will be cheering in front of television screens in lounge rooms rather than at the ground or at a party or local club.
The gatherings will be small. But the story will have a new chapter.
It is ironic that the first all-Sydney Grand Final since Souths’ victory in 2014 will be played in Brisbane.
But the NRL and all the clubs deserve enormous credit for keeping rugby league going during the pandemic.
Players, administrators and sponsors have put the game first. The sacrifices and pragmatism guaranteed millions of Australians could enjoy the game despite the shutdowns.
As much as we hope for a return to the normality of home and away games next year, we should also be grateful to Queensland for keeping the rugby league flame burning during this difficult time.
I wish the Panthers good luck on Sunday. They’ve had a great season and have been a credit to their community.
But Souths, in line with our heritage, have shown our customary grit to overcome adversity on our way to the Grand Final.
When fullback Latrell Mitchell was suspended toward the end of the season, many observers said Souths were finished for 2021.
They underestimated the coaching skill of Wayne Bennett, but more importantly the courage and spirit that has driven South Sydney for more than a century.
That courage has been personified by the outstanding efforts of Blake Taaffe, a youngster who has played only seven matches in the top grade.
Sunday’s Grand Final will be different. But for diehard fans in Sydney and around the nation, it is something they will remember for the rest of their lives.
Fifty years from now and beyond, people will be still be telling their stories of the day, passing their recollections down the chain of the generations.
There will be new memories to cherish.
There will be new strands added to the enduring ties that hold our community together – through good times and bad.
For the players, it will be their time to shine.
To paraphrase from Russell Crowe’s movie Gladiator, “What we do in life echoes in eternity”.
Your time is now. Become legends.
Glory Glory awaits you.