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Remembering The Greatest Rabbitoh

Words: Andréa Mandadakis

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Today, the 9th of August, is thirty-two years since the passing of one of South Sydney's greatest and Rugby League's Immortal, Clive Churchill.

‘The Little Master’ stood at just 175cm and weighed just 76kg, but despite his diminutive stature, he would shine on the field through his extraordinary skill and technique which would revolutionise the fullback role. 

Born in Newcastle on January 21, 1927, success would begin early for Churchill. As a schoolboy he would win 5 Premierships at Marist Brothers Hamilton, starring at five-eighth.

After impressing South Sydney scouts in a match for Country Seconds he would sign up with the Cardinal and Myrtle in 1947. However, it would be the fullback position that he would make his own at Souths and for the next decade he played an integral part in winning five of the Club’s Premierships of that era.

Churchill would use his ball playing skills from his days in the halves, introducing sweeping plays on the edges, while frequently linking up with his outside backs to set up and score tries from anywhere on the field, which always caused him to threaten the opposition line with every possession of the ball.

It wasn’t only attack where he excelled, however, as he was also renowned for his courageous terrier-like defence and bootlace tackling technique - stopping even the biggest of forwards in their path.

Despite his overall success, the 1955 season is where he would write himself into South Sydney folklore. 

Having lost 7 of their first 10 games the Rabbitohs needed to win the rest of their matches to defend their title from the previous year and would do so to complete the ‘Miracle of 55’.

Churchill’s determination and courage would shine through in a do-or-die clash with Manly late in the season.

Having broken his wrist early on in the contest and with a cardboard plaster on his arm, which dangled by his side during the match, Churchill played through the pain barrier and kicked the match winning goal from the sideline which set the Club up to make an unbeaten run to claim their 16th Premiership.

He would also have success in the representative scene, playing 8 games for NSW City, 27 games for NSW and retiring as the most capped Kangaroo with 37 games to his name, also coaching the team in the process.

His legend would live on in the late 60s and early 70s, coaching the club to four more Premierships, with the likes of John Sattler, Ron Coote and Bob McCarthy under his wing, and in 1975 the Little Master would hang up the coaching clip board as one of Rugby League’s most successful players and coaches, having played a major role in nine of the Rabbitohs’ 21 Premierships.

In late 1984 he would be diagnosed with cancer. Such was his stature in the game that the next year $50,000 was raised at a testimonial dinner and he would also be appointed AM a year later.

After his passing in 1985 he would have a stand at the Sydney Cricket Ground named after him as well as being honoured through the creation of the Clive Churchill Medal, an award that has been presented to the best player on field in the NRL Grand Final since 1986.

In 2014 the award would be handed to a South Sydney player for the first time with Sam Burgess receiving honours from Clive’s wife Joyce Churchill who wore his Red and Green pork-pie hat.

It has been thirty-two years since Clive Churchill’s passing, but much like the miracle of '55, his legend will live on in South Sydney forever.