Rabbitohs vs Roosters: All-Time Head-to-Head & History

There is no shortage of fierce rivalries in the NRL, but in the eyes of many, none are fiercer than the one between the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Involving the two oldest and most successful clubs in the league and with a history stretching back over 100 years, the Rabbitohs vs Roosters rivalry has included closely contested finals matchups, territorial conflicts and plenty of controversial player movement between the two sides. So where did it all begin? 

Rabbitohs vs Roosters History

The Rivalry Begins

Both the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Sydney Roosters were founded way back in 1908 in the inaugural year of the Australian rugby league competition, then known as NSWRFL. Come season’s end, South Sydney and the Roosters side which was then known as the Eastern Suburbs were sitting in positions one and two on the ladder respectively, and each of them subsequently won their semi-final and made their way into the first ever Australian rugby league Grand Final. The Rabbitohs, affectionately known as the Bunnies, would go on to win a tightly contested affair 14-12, and the seeds for this great rivalry were sown.

Over the ensuing decades, territorial disputes only served to add fuel to the fire. Throughout much of the 1900s, players represented teams based on where they lived, and with the Eastern Suburbs and South Sydney existing in such close proximity, invariably there were disagreements about which clubs deserved access to which players, particularly given that demographic changes in Sydney meant the league re-zoned parts of the city on many occasions.


The Battle over Ron Coote

One of the most notable of these players was Ron Coote. Coote’s father, Jack, had grown up in Kingsford and represented the Eastern Suburbs as a result, where he won Premierships in both 1935 and 1937. Ron would grow up in the same house as Jack, but a restructuring of the zones meant that by the time Coote junior began his senior playing career, he was living in Souths territory. For the first eight seasons of his Hall of Fame career, Ron Coote was a much-loved Rabbitoh, playing 148 games for them and winning a tidy four Premierships along the way. 

A belief that he was being underpaid, along with persistent offers from his father’s old club, however, saw him ultimately move to the Eastern Suburbs in 1972, where he played 109 games and won another couple of flags. Unsurprisingly, his move angered Souths fans, with switching to their cross-town rival viewed as the ultimate act of disloyalty. Coote’s two-club career was a significant period in the escalation of the Rabbitohs vs Roosters rivalry, and it’s fitting that the two clubs now compete for the Ron Coote Cup.

By the end of Coote’s career, 70 years after the Australian rugby league competition had been founded, the Rabbitohs had established themselves as clearly the most successful side in league history with 20 Premierships. The Roosters hadn’t done too badly themselves, winning ten of their own in that time, but their success paled in comparison to their South Sydney counterparts. As money began to have an increasing influence on the league, their thicker wallets became more and more relevant. Despite the Rabbitohs’ success, the Roosters were seen as the ‘big-end-of-town club’, according to Mark Courtney, author of The Book of Feuds.


The Downfall of the Bunnies

That perception manifested throughout the 1990s, as the Rabbitohs started to endure significant financial hardships while the Roosters went from strength-to-strength. As the turn of the century neared, Sydney began to awake from a slumber which had seen them make the finals just once between 1983 and 1995. 

In 1996, they made their way into the top four, with a highlight of the season coming on ANZAC Day in Round 6 when they pumped their long-time rivals to the tune of 62-0. That game was indicative of what was to come for the two sides.

 As the NRL was formed in 1998, the most successful club in league history in the Rabbitohs continued to struggle, and would ultimately be excluded from the competition in 2000 and 2001 after it was reduced to 14 teams. This humiliation was compounded by the success of their oldest rivals, whose constant improvement saw them ultimately make the Grand Final in 2000. Though the Roosters lost that game, it would be the first in a run of four Grand Final appearances in five years, a period which included their first Premiership in 27 years in 2002. 

 Unsurprisingly, the contrasting fortunes of the two sides didn’t sit well with the former powerhouse that was the Rabbitohs, nor did the fact that they lost 13 consecutive games against the Roosters over this ten-year period. That finally ended in 2005 courtesy of a 17-16 victory, a win which signalled the beginning of a much more competitive era for the rivalry.


The Modern-Day Rabbitohs vs Roosters Rivalry

Two years later, the Ron Coote Cup was introduced, and in the 30 games which have been played since, the Roosters vs Rabbitohs rivalry has seen 15 victories apiece. 

With the two sides meeting twice in the regular season per year, the Cup is awarded to the team with the best aggregate score to separate the two teams in seasons in which they both win one rivalry game apiece, and the Rabbitohs hold a slight advantage of 8-7 by this metric. 

Regardless of which numbers you look at, there has evidently been little between the two sides over the past decade and a half, and this has certainly helped to reignite the flames of their rivalry.

 Over the past few years, those flames have been fanned even further by multiple finals matchups and a couple of significant player swaps. In 2018, the two sides met in a Preliminary Final in the last game ever played at Allianz Stadium, a match which took place in front of a ground record 44,380 passionate fans and saw the Roosters win 12-4. The Rabbitohs’ loss was compounded by the fact that their star forward Angus Crichton joined Ron Coote and a host of others on the list of players to jump between these two rivals when he moved from the Rabbitohs to the Roosters during the ensuing off-season. 

The next season they again met in the finals, this time in the first week, and again the Roosters got the chocolates. The Rabbitohs managed to get one back on their rivals, however, when Latrell Mitchell swapped his Roosters jersey for a green and red one following that season, and since then the ledger has begun to swing back in the direction of the Bunnies.

After losing to the Roosters in the first clash between the two sides of 2020, the Rabbitohs recorded their largest ever victory against their long-time rivals in the second, demolishing them 60-8. 

In 2021, that trend continued, with South Sydney winning the first game between the two 26-16 and the second by a huge 54-12 margin.  

Heading into 2022, the rivalry is as fierce as it has been in a long time. Despite the recent blowouts, both sides are genuine Premiership contenders, the Roosters having finished in the top five in five successive seasons and the Rabbitohs coming off three top four finishes in four years, which culminated in a heartbreaking Grand Final loss last season. 

Crichton and Mitchell’s moves certainly helped to stoke the fire, as have two finals matchups since 2018, and with both sides likely to be legitimate contenders in 2022, the rivalry between the only two remaining sides from that inaugural 1908 season is ready to explode. 


Rabbitohs vs Roosters Head-to-Head Stats

Win/Loss: 129-113 (six draws) in favour of South Sydney

Aggregate Score: 3,855-3,852 in favour of South Sydney 

Biggest Roosters Win: 62-0 (Round 6, 1996)

Biggest Rabbitohs Win: 60-8 (Round 2020, 2020)

Biggest Roosters Winning Streak: 13 games (1995-2005)

Biggest Rabbitohs Winning Streak: 11 games (1963-1967)

Biggest Crowd: 52,592 (Preliminary Final, 2014)

Most Consecutive Ron Coote Cups: 4* (Rabbitohs, 2018-present)