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Souths coach berates Crowe

THE Souths coach, Jason Taylor, was swearing and shaking his head. The Hollywood actor Russell Crowe listened, stony-faced and chain-smoking Jessica Halloran and Sunanda Creagh in the Sydney Morning Herald of May 27, 2008.

The friction at South Sydney was evident at 6.30am yesterday outside Bar Coluzzi on Victoria Street, Darlinghurst. By day's end, Taylor wasn't the only one bruised at the struggling club. Crowe's co-owner of the Rabbitohs, the millionaire Peter Holmes a Court, would quit as executive chairman - the apparent culmination of a frosting in the duo's friendship.

Holmes a Court will remain on the board. But in his place the board appointed Shane Richardson as chief executive and Nicholas Pappas as chairman - the same posts they held when Crowe and Holmes a Court bought their 75 per cent stake two years ago, with the promise of taking the club to great heights. But Souths have had just one win in 10 NRL games this season, and the club has lost $4 million in its first year under the new owners.

As predicted in yesterday's Herald, the board also appointed the premiership-winning coach John Lang as a consultant - a blow to Taylor, who wasn't taking the news well at Bar Coluzzi yesterday morning. One patron observed that Taylor and Crowe had "faces like death"; another suggested "faces like thunder".

"They were super-grim. Not happy chappies. Rusty was chain-smoking. He was fairly calm, smoking darts, while Taylor was really agitated saying things like, 'This bloke has let me down' and 'That bloke has let me down'. Taylor was also saying things like, 'What's the time-frame for this?"'

But with the announcement of the shake-out late in the day, they all put on a brave face. "The reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated," said Crowe.

"Today the board applauded Peter's achievements in lifting the South Sydney club and collectively we thanked him for his gargantuan effort over the past two years," Crowe added. "Right now it's my belief that what South Sydney needs is the continuity, knowledge and experience that both Nick Pappas and Shane Richardson bring. Both men come from within the Souths family and both men understand intimately how to take advantage of the progress the club has made."

And Taylor decalred himself happy with Lang, the former Penrith coach. "I think John Lang will add a great deal to the football department here at Souths," Taylor said. "I'm really looking forward to working with him."

Holmes a Court vowed his continiung support late yesterday, despite his admission last week that he could not guarantee the survival of the foundation club.

Crowe's representative, Grant Vandenberg, said the actor did not want to comment about the private meeting at the cafe. Taylor also declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Redfern residents fear they will be locked out of the newly renovated Redfern Oval under a 20-year deal the Rabbitohs are about to strike with the City of Sydney.

The council's finance committee yesterday voted to support a licensing agreement with the South Sydney Members Rugby League Club Limited that would give the club priority use of the oval for up to 26 hours a week. It would also get exclusive use of a quarter of the grandstand area and the right to charge for entry to the publicly owned facility during exhibition matches. The licensing agreement is for 10 years, after which there will be an option to extend the deal for a further 10 years.

Ifeanna Tooth is one of 20 Redfern residents who objected to the plan. "It's public open space. It is community land. I think it's fine they play some games there and Souths Juniors play but I don't think they should lock the public out."

The club will pay the council $125,000 a year under the deal, a figure Ms Tooth said was well below market rent. "I don't think the ratepayers should be subsidising them," she said. "And South Sydney is one area that has a low amount of open space per person."

However, a council report has told dissenting residents they should use other parks instead.

"There are 16 parks within 500 metres of Redfern Park, including Prince Alfred Park and Waterloo Park," the report says.

A spokesman for the Rabbitohs, John Richardson, yesterday told the council: "The return to Redfern enables the club to continue its relationship to the community."

The community will have access to an outer oval when the main playing field is closed for use by the club.