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What a South Sydney Grand Final means to me – and why Tech Guide is red and green

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southsgf3Some people might be wondering why Tech Guide has been turned red and green to celebrate South Sydney making the NRL Grand Final.

For me the love of this team is far deeper than that of a regular supporter and seeing the Rabbitohs in the premiership decider is literally a dream come true.

It is the culmination of a long journey on and off the field that took us through some thrilling and exciting times but also through some very dark places and dire situations.

The inspiration I draw from this team getting to where they are today from where they’ve come from is incredible.

A Grand Final win for South Sydney would mean so much not only for the team but also for the fans and the wider community and anyone who loves seeing the battler finally succeed.

Now those of you reading this site know me as a technology journalist and commentator.

Consumer tech and making it easier to understand and embrace for my many readers has been a real passion of mine for 11 years.

But I’m equally passionate about South Sydney. One of my proudest achievements is that fact that I played for the mighty Rabbitohs.

Wearing the red and green in the late 80s

I was also a News Limited journalist when my employer unceremoniously helped to kick the Rabbitohs out of the competition but more about that later.

And yes, former Souths captain Mario Fenech – one of the fiercest competitors ever to wear the red and green, is my older brother. My oldest brother Joe, who passed away in 1985 at the age of 24, had also worn the red and green.

I played alongside Mario for three years at Souths and a year against him when he first moved to the North Sydney Bears

I was born to follow South Sydney – I came into the world while my family was living in Waterloo – three blocks from Redfern Oval.

The fact I’ve worn the same red and green jersey worn by greats like Clive Churchill, Bob McCarthy, George Piggins, Eric Simms, Ron Coote and John Sattler is something I am so proud of.

I see some of these Rabbitohs legends at our player reunions and am blown away that they even know my name let alone that fact that I’ve shed blood, sweat and tears in the same famous red and green colours they also wore.

It is a feeling that can only be fully understood and appreciated by the players who came before me and who followed after me representing the pride of the league.

These men will forever be my brothers.

It is an exclusive brotherhood that I will savour for the rest of my life.

I like to think of each of us former and current players as just one small brick in the long and winding road that has led to this point – this moment of glory.

So you can understand my unbridled joy when I saw the 2014 South Sydney team make it to the big dance.

Having people like Russell Crowe involved with the club has made the Rabbitohs known beyond our shores in other countries like the US and in the UK.

I’ve worn my South Sydney hoodie on the streets of New York, San Francisco and London and each time been greeted with the full blooded cry of “go the Rabbitohs”.

Souths’ road to the Grand Final has been a bumpy one to say the least.

Playing against my brother Mario when I was still at Souths and he was playing for Norths

It’s been a long time since we’ve enjoyed premiership glory yet South Sydney still remains the most successful team in Australian rugby league history with 20 Grand Final wins. And we’re hoping it becomes 21 this year.

Since 1971 a lot has happened at the club with many leans times, good and not-so-good administrations and coaching staffs.

The darkest time for South Sydney came at the end of the last century when, in 1999, the team was excluded from the competition.

It was the outcome of the truce between the News Limited-led Super League and the Australian Rugby League. The NRL was formed and South Sydney wasn’t invited.

And the irony of this for me is that fact I was working at News Limited at the time. At that point of my career I was Deputy Sports Editor of the Daily Telegraph.

I worked at News Limited for 25 years before leaving at the end of 2010 to start Tech Guide.

The day Souths were kicked out of the comp I wore a black armband into the News Limited offices in Surry Hills – a fact respectfully acknowledged by my colleague and editors alike.

I can still remember the preparation meeting the day before Souths’ exclusion became official and we’d already presumed the worst. Everyone except me.

I spoke up and asked if anyone had considered that the Rabbitohs’ – a foundation club and team of the people – might scrape through.

The late Peter Frilingos – who was sitting next to me in the Daily Telegraph editor’s office – turned to me with a sympathetic look in his eyes and said: “Steve, sorry mate – they’re gone”.

And he was right. The next day the shameful verdict was read out. South Sydney would not be part of the competition.

Had the sun stopped rising? Were the waves still rolling into the beach? Life without South Sydney was unheard of.

And the reaction and backlash surprised everyone right to the highest levels of News Limited executives including Rupert Murdoch himself.

As deputy sports editor it was my job to take some of the sports editor’s calls when we were busy – which was all the time.

And after Souths got the boot readers were letting us know in no uncertain terms what they thought of the Daily Telegraph, the public face of News Limited, and the decision to axe the club.

While the language used in these calls can’t be shared here they were letting us have it – telling us they can pick up their destroyed Foxtel box from the footpath and that they’d never buy the paper ever again.

Catching up with South Sydney legend John Sattler at a players' reunion. We are red and green brothers

And you want to know the funny thing? I agreed with every single one of them but had to just cop the abuse with a smile on my face.

I became the Daily Telegraph Sports Editor a year later and was in the chair when more than 50,000 supporters marched from Redfern to the Town Hall – right by the News Limited offices near Central Station.

The company wasn’t taking any chances either and boarded up all of the windows on the ground floor of the Holt St building fearing angry Souths supporters would damage the property. In the end there wasn’t a single incident.

The march led by former coach and Rabbitohs great George Piggins who wasn’t just going to sit around and be told by News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch – an Australian with US citizenship – that Souths can’t play in the competition.

Scenes of passionate supporters wearing their red and green colours and waving banners as they closed down the Sydney CBD and marched to the centre of town made for great pictures and TV coverage.

And as you’d expect these led all of the TV news bulletins and were splashed across the front pages of all the newspapers – all except the Daily Telegraph.

Col Allen, the Daily Telegraph’s fiery editor-in-chief, decided to bury the story and prompt handballed the story to me as Sports Editor – to run in the sport pages which, at the time, was in the middle of the paper as a liftout.

I can still remember the page number the story ran on – Page 73 – with a big picture and lead story.

I questioned the decision and asked the news desk if they didn’t want it for the front pages. All I got was an “it’s no use” look and asked to make it a page lead “up the back somewhere”. I was ashamed to be a journalist that day.

But soon after the court case began and Souths’ fight to be reinstated began.

News Limited had learned its lesson from the supporters march and followed the case closely.

When South Sydney marched triumphantly from the courtroom after the decision came down that the team was back in the competition, they were greeted with the roars and cheers of thousands of fans.

And the Daily Telegraph jumped on the bandwagon.

Souths were back!

It was same fighting spirit the club has shown since it was formed in 1908 by a group of players who sold rabbits in the streets to make ends meet.

It was the same passion and belief that carried the club to more than 20 premierships and will hopefully fuel premiership win Number 21.

I’m not ashamed to say that I will shed a tear if Souths win the Grand Final because I’ve lived the ups and downs of this mighty club since I was born.

So yes, a lot of people might be wondering why I’m so passionate about this club, why I’ve been wearing South Sydney colours every weekend and every day this week and why Tech Guide is red and green.

Now you know.

Glory, glory…….