By Mary Maidiotis
The St George Illawarra Dragons will face the South Sydney Rabbitohs as part of Heritage Round at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday, in a fixture more special than most.
The clash marks the 50th Anniversary since St George played the Rabbitohs in the 1965 Grand Final at the SCG.
The Dragons defeated the Rabbitohs 12 points to eight, in front of an official record-breaking crowd of 78,056, in addition to thousands of fans who scaled the roofs of the stands of both the SCG and Showgrounds for a chance to watch the memorable match.
The win marked the Dragons tenth consecutive premiership - a world record for major club football - as an entire generation grew up watching the Saints dominate rugby league.
The gate takings on the day were also a record for club League in Australia with £15,385 collected, as thousands of fans were unable to gain admittance.
Despite South Sydney winning both encounters during the regular season 14-4 and 17-8, the superior experience of the Dragons proved too strong and their iron-clad defence ensured the Rabbitohs would not cross the line once.
From the last six grand finals played, the Dragons had their defensive line crossed only once by Western Suburbs centre Gil McDougall in 1963.
The Rabbitohs were first to etch points on the board as fullback Kevin Longbottom slotted a penalty goal from halfway.
However, it was the only time in the match that South Sydney would hold the lead as the Saints responded one minute later with a try courtesy of centre Billy Smith.
“I scored a try, but I remember seeing people everywhere,” said Smith.
“Kids ten rows deep sitting inside the ground on the grass, when I scored I slid into the kids and scattered them everywhere.
“Souths were the up and coming young side, they’d beaten us throughout the season, but we won the game that mattered.”
Less than ten minutes later, the Dragons extended their lead through a penalty goal landed by fullback Graeme Langlands.
The Rabbitohs reduced the gap with another penalty goal a minute out from half-time, leaving the Saints leading 5-4 at the break.
It took just two minutes for the Dragons to score again as they were awarded a penalty 20 metres out, granting Langlands an easy goal.
The Rabbitohs’ efforts continued and were rewarded with another penalty goal which Longbottom slotted from halfway again but this was short-lived as Langlands responded four minutes later with a goal of his own.
The Dragons extended the gap to five points as winger Johnny King scored in the corner, making it his ninth try in a grand final, scoring in each of the six grand finals he had played in.
“I scored a try, I had a habit of doing that in Grand Finals,” said King.
“When we ran out I couldn’t believe the support and noise of the crowd, it was truly unbelievable, the number of people.
“I looked at the clock stairwell and it was full of people, then I saw them sitting on the roofs of the grandstands and the Showground grandstands as well, unbelievable.”
Rabbitohs winger Eric Simms landed a goal to reduce the gap to four and keep his side in contention with ten minutes remaining but the Dragons held onto the ball to take out the premiership.
Dragons hooker Ian Walsh won twice as many scrums as opposition hooker Fred Anderson and was most dominant when the Souths were desperate for possession, denying them any chance of a try.
The game has been described as a ‘battle of forwards’ in which Saints prop Kevin Ryan was named man of the match.
St George captain-coach Norm Provan, who featured in all ten premierships and was the only player to do so, announced his retirement to the crowd over the speakers at full-time.
“Like all Grand Finals the atmosphere at the SCG was awesome, the biggest crowd ever,” said Langlands.
“I remember Souths Kevin Longbottom kicking a 55 metre goal to open the scoring, a super kick.
“It was also Norm Provan’s last match, ten successive Grand Final wins, an unbelievable achievement.
“The team played really tough and we got away with the money.”
However, the word ‘tough’ is an understatement when describing the players in this game.
Dragons lock and legend Johnny Raper finished the game with a severely swollen right thumb and it was later revealed that he had been carrying a broken thumb for the last six weeks.
He had been playing with dozens of painkilling injections for over a month and had one before the game but it started to wear off midway through the second-half and had to have his thumb plastered immediately after the full-time siren.
“The tackles were pounding, with every man on the paddock throwing his full weight into the bone-crunching stoppers,” wrote Raper the following day.
Opposition lock Ron Coote also played the game with a severely bruised back and teammate Ivan Jones played the last fifteen minutes of the game with a limp arm, after losing use of his arm when he tore a ligament in his neck and shoulder.
It was an unforgettable game that has guaranteed Saturday night’s fixture to be special, granted the rich history of both clubs and their memorable past encounters.