Roosters-Rabbitohs rivalry lives on four decades later
League of their own
BOB McCarthy played his last game for the Rabbitohs in 1978 - more than four decades ago. Yet he awaits tonight's Rabbitohs-Roosters clash as much as he did during his 251-match NRL career.
The big bloke still feels his blood boil every time his Redfern Rabbitohs are drawn against the silvertails from Bondi. To explain the emotion, the Surry Hills-born McCarthy simply uses the phrase 'you can take the boy out of Redfern, but never Redfern out of the boy'.
In an era where the almighty dollar is seemingly the lure and a player's loyalty primarily to himself, people like Bob McCarthy are rare. He played 211 top-grade games for the Rabbitohs - more than anyone until John Sutton broke his record a few years back.
Admittedly he severed his Redfern tenure when he spent two of his 12 NRL seasons with the Bulldogs, and he also moved to Queensland to kick off a coaching career. But the former chairman of Australia's selection panel has lived in the South Sydney catchment area for all but a decade of his 72 years.
The recipient of an MBE back in 1977 for his services to rugby league, McCarthy is a Rabbitohs life member and in 2004 was named in South Sydney's Dream Team. And he was, somewhat more auspiciously, a member of four premiership-winning Rabbitohs teams as well as two that were beaten grand finalists.
But while all those memories remain very special, tonight's return to the famous Sydney Cricket Ground where his major triumphs took place, raises the hair on his neck. He even admits to being a tad edgy, albeit - at 72 - a calm kind of nervous.
And adding to that tension is a significant event.
At the invitation of new coach Wayne Bennett, McCarthy and fellow premiership-winning Rabbitohs teammates Ron Coote and Mike Cleary, will meet the players in the famous SCG change rooms prior to kick-off.
Then, with their respective wives, the trio will watch the game from the luxury of the SCG Trust box (Bob is also a Trust Life Member) which makes him a tad uncomfortable. And it's not because of the plush surroundings of the Trust box or the superb hospitality, but because his two companions are turncoats.
You see, in the eyes of McCarthy and most died-in-the-wool Rabbitohs fans, Coote and Cleary did the unthinkable in the early 70s - they switched from the Rabbitohs to the Roosters.
And he says it was not until then that his now-intensive dislike of the Roosters kicked in. He reckons the departure of Coote, in particular, irked him. The pair had shared four premierships. But what about tonight? Will Coote, the man nicknamed Solid, stick solid with his Rabbitohs, even though he also won three premierships with the Roosters?