Chris Maume: Rabbitohs in the headlights after Crowe exhausts his motivation

Russell Crowe's South Sydney Story, Channel 4, Friday
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The Independent Online

I've never much cared for Russell Crowe, I have to say: when he's not roughing up TV executives at Bafta awards ceremonies (2002) or chucking phones at New York hotel employees, causing facial lacerations (2005), he's making rubbish films (apart from the wonderful LA Confidential, of course). His rich man's bauble is the National Rugby League side South Sydney Rabbitohs, who last year were the subject of a reality TV series, South Sydney Story.

To put it into context, the Rabbitohs are an example of what's generally referred to as a sleeping giant. They've won 20 Premiership titles, though none since 1971 – the rough equivalent of Manchester United during the wilderness years between Sirs Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson. There's a saying Down Under: "When Souths are going well, rugby league is going well."

They certainly weren't going well in 2007, needing to finish in the top half of the 16-team table to make the play-offs. We joined them as they embarked on a lengthy losing streak, despite – or maybe because of – Crowe's motivational efforts, like introducing synchronised swimming into training sessions, enlisting Snoop Dogg to address the troops, or transporting to Australia the entire cast of the American reality TV series American Chopper, about a motorbike company. But one other cunning plan did seem to have an effect – commissioning the writer and rabid Rabbitohs fan Mark Courtney to produce The Book of Feuds.

Courtney described the commission from Crowe: "It'd be good if you could write the history of our feud with each club – 100 years of bitterness, 100 years of struggle, every time we've beaten them on the bell, every player they stole from us, every referee who cheated us, everything.'"

Crowe unveiled the book to the players, theatrically blowing dust from the pages: "Here's the thing, boys: you can never, never, never forget how they treated us with contempt. We'll never forget how they thought the game of rugby league was all right without the South Sydney Rabbitohs."

And it worked. "No one likes us, we don't care" has been a potent weapon in the hands of Sir Alex, to name one, and the very next game, in the pouring rain against Penrith Panthers, they won for the first time in weeks.

The coach dispensed with a team talk afterwards, telling the players instead to sing the club song – something raucous to the tune of "Here we go", as it turns out.

From there the graph continued on an upward curve, and they made the play-offs for the first time in 18 years. They lost to Manly, but the season still ended on a high.

I referred to them as a rich man's bauble, but it's clear that Crowe, a bona fide sports nut, is deadly serious. "It's the hardest thing I think I've ever done in my life," he said. "I've taken another 34 lives into my life."

Since the series was shot it's all gone horribly wrong, however – think Leeds and Peter Ridsdale. Co-owner Peter Holmes à Court has gone as chairman, after falling out badly with Crowe, and losses – on the pitch and in the accounts – have been mounting. This year, their centenary, they finished 14th, losing 16 out of 24 games and conceding a devilish 666 points. A columnist in the Australian Daily Telegraph wrote: "Crowe and Holmes à Court have not just desecrated a sporting icon. They have stolen a way of life from thousands of people whose feverish support goes back to 1908. Does he really understand the damage and humiliation he and Holmes à Court have piled upon such a monument to sporting history?"

How long before Crowe is pushed out, you wonder, mouthing, "We lived the dream"?

Five strikes out by dropping live baseball

Appalling. I've generally had nothing but good things to say about them, but now it's nought out of 10 for Five. I'm told they're dropping live coverage of baseball, the channel's longest-running show. Like poor old Woolies, a victim of the global financial crisis. But a strikeout for Five all the same.

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