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Crowe and his Bunnies add spark to NRL grand final

October 2, 2014

New Zealand-born, Australian-based actor Russell Crowe guarantees that the National Rugby League grand final between South Sydney and the Canterbury Bulldogs on Sunday will have a genuine Hollywood feel about it, at least in the VIP section.

Crowe, who won a best actor Academy Award for his leading role in “Gladiator” in 2000, had been a long-time fan of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, a.k.a. the Bunnies.

But he — with some help from millionaire businessman Peter Holmes a Court — made the affection a bit more serious in 2006-07 when they bought a 75 percent share of the financially-struggling team for $3 million.

It will be the Rabbitohs’ first grand final in 43 years — when Crowe was only seven years old.

Here are some other things to know about the NRL final at Stadium Australia, the main venue for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. A capacity crowd above 80,000 is expected.

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BATTLE OF BRITAIN: That would be Canterbury’s James Graham and fellow Brit Sam Burgess of South Sydney. Burgess and Graham have been among the most impressive forwards in the NRL this season and Graham, a former St. Helens player, said he was disappointed when he learned Burgess, his roommate on Britain tours and one of four Burgess brothers who have played for Souths this year, was heading back home to play rugby union. Graham says he won’t be targeting his countryman. “I reckon honestly, there is not as much in it as people say,” he said. “He plays in the middle, I play in the middle. It’s only because we tackle each other.” Graham said Burgess didn’t tell him of his move away from the NRL. “He didn’t mention it to me ... I was disappointed to be honest, really disappointed.”

RINGING THE BELL: There is a 106-year-old timekeeper’s bell that helps to highlight South Sydney’s struggle to survive in the league amid its past financial troubles. Used to ring the start and finish of the Rabbitohs’ first match in 1908 against Norths at Birchgrove Oval in Sydney, it was bought by Crowe for $42,000 at a function in 1999 to raise funds for one of the Souths’ court cases to seek readmission to the premiership. It was also the bell that was rung when the Rabbitohs played their first “return” match against the Roosters in 2002 after readmission to the NRL, but it has been silent since. Crowe posted to his 1.58 million followers on Twitter that “the bell will ring again on Sunday.”

IT’S BEEN A WHILE: Sunday’s match will be the first time Souths and Canterbury have met in a grand final since 1967, when the Rabbitohs defeated the Bulldogs 12-10 at the Sydney Cricket Ground in the then New South Wales Rugby League competition. The last time the two sides met in the playoffs was in 2012, the year the Bulldogs reached the grand final and were defeated by the Melbourne Storm. The Rabbitohs come in as favorites after big wins over Manly and the defending champion Sydney Roosters. During the regular season, the teams split a pair of matches.

GETTING READY: The Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit up each night this week, with a slide show of 80-meter-high (250-foot) projections of players on the two grand final teams lighting up one of the bridge’s pylons. Slash, former lead guitarist of the American hard rock band Guns N’ Roses, was scheduled to be part of the pre-game entertainment Sunday, while the game will also honor the achievements of more than 20 of the game’s retiring players, including the Roosters’ Anthony Minichiello, who have played 300 or more games.

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