The perfect outing
For many rugby league fans Good Friday is South Sydney versus Canterbury-Bankstown, 4pm Stadium Australia.
It’s a day off work and the game that you circle in your calendar at the start of each year.
Families come together, old mates catch up and memories are made.
Even if you’re a neutral, it’s a game not to miss. You may even duck into the neighbouring Easter Show before or after the game.
No matter where each team is situated on the ladder, there is always a large crowd.
This is rugby league at its best.
Playing rugby league on Good Friday started 25 years ago when Eastern Suburbs faced South Sydney in Friday night football at the Sydney Football Stadium. These days playing sport on a public holiday is a no-brainer but back then it was controversial.
The decision by the New South Wales Rugby League to play on Good Friday understandably did not sit well with the Anglican and Catholic churches. They lobbied heavily for the idea to be scrapped as it fell on one of the holiest days in the Australian calendar. Even the Super Coach Jack Gibson weighed in on the issue and said that players should have a choice to participate or not.
The game still went ahead in front of a record crowd of 26,433 with Eastern Suburbs defeating South Sydney 18-4 in a fiery contest with some memorable big hits. The large crowd was boosted by thousands of free tickets handed out to patrons next door at the Easter Show.
Good Friday football was born and has been an annual fixture ever since.
The follow up
South Sydney didn’t participate in Good Friday football in 1994. They did feature in 1995 against arch-rivals Eastern Suburbs in front of 15,120 at the Sydney Football Stadium in a 26-8 loss in what turned out to be the Darren Junee show who bagged three tries.
Worth the wait
South Sydney didn’t feature in Good Friday football until Round 4 2007 when they faced Canterbury-Bankstown in Friday night football at Stadium Australia in front of a strong 34,315 crowd. South Sydney went into the game undefeated and came out losing 34-10.
The year after they faced each other again on Good Friday in front of 21,839 fans at Stadium Australia with Canterbury-Bankstown winning 25-12.
The winning formula
After a 4 year hiatus, South Sydney returned to play Good Friday football in 2012 when they faced Canterbury-Bankstown at the new time slot of 4pm. In the era of prime time night football scheduling this was a breath of fresh air. The fans responded with 35,221 turning up to witness an arm wrestle in the first half with South Sydney running away 20-10 victors in their first ever Good Friday win.
The 4pm event was such a success that it returned the year after in front of a record 51,686 crowd. This game saw the much hyped return of Canterbury-Bankstown’s Ben Barba and a rematch of the 2012 grand final qualifier. This time South Sydney were the victors in a tight 17-12 contest.
The 2014 contest was decided by a Trent Hodkinson field goal with Canterbury-Bankstown winning 15-14 in front of 43,255. It was not all doom and gloom for South Sydney as they beat Canterbury-Bankstown later in the season when it counted.
The 2014 grand final rematch was held on Good Friday 2015. This game had a massive build up and may have been even bigger if Sam Burgess was playing. A crowd of 40,523 turned up on a wet afternoon to witness a blood bath. South Sydney were 18-17 victors in what turned out to be one of the most controversial finishes to a game.
South Sydney were down 8-2 in a game that wasn’t theirs until they were awarded an 8 point try after Issac Luke was knocked out in the act of scoring Adam Reynolds converted both goals and South Sydney took a 10-8 lead.
The game ended up 16 all and then the boot of Trent Hodkinson put Canterbury-Bankstown in front 17-16. Surely an underdone South Sydney side couldn’t come back from this.
In the final moments of the game an attempted field goal by Adam Reynolds to level the scores resulted in a penalty being awarded to South Sydney due to James Graham attacking the legs of Reynolds as he attempted the field goal. Referee Gerard Sutton copped a shower of abuse from David Klemmer and James Graham which in turn fired up an irate Canterbury-Bankstown supporter group.
Adam Reynolds was injured during this and Bryson Goodwin had the honours kicking the match winning penalty goal with South Sydney 18-16 winners.
Ugly scenes followed with crowd violence and match officials being struck with projectile water bottles from Canterbury-Bankstown members this resulted in an interchange official suffering a broken shoulder when dodging a projectile.
The following year South Sydney were ambushed by a red hot Canterbury-Bankstown side and went into the sheds at half time down 32-0 in front of 38,192 fans which eventuated into a 42-12 loss.
Game of two halves
South Sydney went in at half time up 9-8 in the 2017 contest in front of 35,984 fans but failed to score a point in the second half with Canterbury-Bankstown running away as 24-9 victors.
The 4pm Good Friday time slot is a mainstay under the current TV broadcasting rights deal and is one of the biggest club football games in the NRL.