THE setting was the dining room table at Kerry Packers Bellevue Hill mansion, the entree was oysters and the main course was a merger between the Eastern Suburbs Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs.
On the invitation list to the private dinner was powerful Roosters chairman Nick Politis, South Sydney patriarch George Piggins, breakfast radio king pin Alan Jones and the late, great media baron Packer.
The year was 1994 and the ugly, game-changing Super League war was in full swing. In between courses, Packer outlined the plan of how a merger between the 1908 foundation rivals and sworn enemies would work.
Then he handed over to Politis.
“I remember looking at George and I could see it in his eyes. And you know what, he could probably see it in my eyes, too,” Politis said.
“We never really wanted to join forces, but Kerry wanted us to get together. We talked a little, but we were both too proud of the heritage of our clubs. We didn’t want to lose our identities.
“There’s too much history, too much tradition. So there was no deal.”
Almost 20 years on, the thought of trying to convince these two clubs split by the boundary lines of Anzac Parade to merge seems about as realistic as attempting to broker a peace deal along the middle east’s Gaza strip.
From Botany to Maroubra and Bellevue Hill to Bondi, rugby league people are simply born and bred red and green – considered more working class – or, alternatively, red, white and blue – a little more affluent.
Thanks to South Sydney owner Russell Crowe’s beloved `Book of Feuds’, both clubs promote their modern-day clashes as a celebration of why they `love to hate’ each other.
Provided the Roosters beat the Gold Coast Titans at Allianz Stadium on Sunday, the Tricolours will set-up the ball game of the season next Friday night against arch-rivals the Bunnies, with the minor premiership at stake.
The last time the Roosters and South Sydney were both on top of the NRL ladder prior to this season was round two, 1984, while the last time they played each other in a last round clash for the JJ Giltinan Shield was 1968.
On that day, 45 years ago, the Pride of the League prevailed 24-22 in front of 39,933 fans at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Today, there’s still just as much animosity.
“I’d be lying if I said both clubs didn’t circle this game on the calendar. They hate us and we hate them,” South Sydney co-captain Roy Asostasi said.
“Ever since I joined the Rabbitohs, round one is always a fiery encounter. Both foundation clubs and it comes down to a battle of the suburbs.
“It’s the icing on the cake that we’re both probably going to be battling it out for the minor premiership. It’s a real curtain raiser for the finals.”
Come next Friday night at ANZ Stadium, you can guarantee all the anecdotes about this wonderful, historical rivalry will get rolled out.
Like the gypsie who put a curse on Ron Coote when he switched clubs from Souths in 1972 after then-Roosters coach Don Furner kept showing up on his front porch. Or what about when Souths paraded Craig Wing as the Rabbitohs “buying back the farm” at a strategically-orchestrated press conference in 2007 – when Wing was still contracted to the Roosters.