When you listen to current NRL players speak about their journeys into first grade, they often delve into their memories of following the footsteps of their parents. There’s usually a generational line of supporters of the game or a specific club. Fans are no different in that accord. You may find the occasional straggler who found the game by their own means but for most, it’s a family affair. Mother and daughter duo - Leisa and Alice Curtis - are a perfect example of two fans that have had the love, passion and commitment for rugby league passed down from generations before them.
Alice has been a supporter of the South Sydney Rabbitohs her whole life but days weren’t always Glory Glory for her mother, Leisa. Along with her family, Leisa was a mad Newtown Jets supporter - so much so that she even dabbled in cheerleading for the team. Had they had their way, the family would have been Jets supporters for life however; the NRL had a different plan. The Jets were infamously thrown out of the NRL in 1983 leaving Leisa and her family empty-handed.
The jet shaped whole in Leisa’s heart was finally filled when she decided to throw her support into the South Sydney Rabbitohs, her then husband’s team. Although her support was “lukewarm” at first she eventually became a passionate, loud and extravagant supporter in 2002 when the boys in green and red were reinstated.
During this time, young Alice was born. With a generation line of South Sydney that dates back way beyond Alice’s recollection, there was no way she was going to be allowed to support any other team than the Bunnies. Despite growing up in the St George area and being surrounded by Dragons fans, Alice’s heart was always with the Bunnies. When her mother started backing the team more seriously, it became a dream come true for the Curtis family.
Supporting the South Sydney Rabbitohs has become a family tradition amongst the Curtis family. This weekend however, will be a little bit sweeter for Leisa and Alice as they celebrate Women In League round with the NRL. This round is a chance to celebrate the triumphs and accomplishments for the women involved in the game which is something so special to Alice.
“Being a female NRL fan is really special to me.
“Women have worked really hard to be taken seriously as fans and voices of the game. I’ve had people say to me “You only like them because of how they look” and it couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Come and sit with me at a game and you’ll see how passionate I am about this game and how it’s got nothing to do with their looks. I’ve got into more near fights than I care to admit with people over this game – actually, maybe I shouldn’t be admitting that.
“Just make sure to keep an eye out for me when I’m the first female CEO of the game”
As a supporter of the game for a longer period than Alice, Leisa has had the unique opportunity to truly watch the game expand and develop into a more inclusive game over the years.
“The support the women’s league competition has been getting is fantastic.
“I’d love to see this continue. Similarly, it would be great to see more women climb the ranks to executive positions in the NRL.”
Despite admiring the extravagant growth for the women’s game, both Alice and Leisa can’t help but dream bigger. They, as women of the game, want to see it grow even more. Alice speaks with so much passion that it’s humorous sometimes. You can just visualise her face reddening as she speaks quickly and purposefully.
“I look forward to seeing the women’s league being expanded over the next few years. I really look forward to seeing Souths be admitted into the competition very soon. Are you listening NRL?!
“Mum and I joined as Souths Women’s League Foundation Members this year so I look forward to supporting them in the Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership Grand Final tonight.
“I also want women to be seen as more than just the mums, the canteen workers, the ones that work behind the scenes at clubs too when we celebrate Women in League – we’re so much more than that.”
This weekend isn’t just special due to Women in League round; it’s also special because this season as a whole is special. Every week the Bunnies have an extra pair of eyes watching down on them from heaven. Unfortunately, Alice’s grandfather lost his battle to cancer in March after many years as a South Sydney supporter.
“I miss him every single day.
“Even more so the morning after games because that’s when we used to discuss the game and of course what we would’ve done differently if we were the coach.
“I like to think the team is going so well this year because they’ve got some special cheering going on up in heaven from our little Kevvy!”
During the undeniable heartache of losing a love one, the Curtis family can turn to rugby league as an escape. Despite the highs and lows of life, it’s nice to know that you will always have football.
“It’s more than just something to do on a weekend. It’s a way of life.
“Where else can you boo the bad guys and cheer for the good guys?”
“It means everything to me. It’s a part of who we are a family.”
With this love and passion has to come support during the bad times however. When you flip through the history books of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, you feel like you are being taken on a rollercoaster ride. It’s so easy to forget all of the hardships the club has gone through when they’re going so well this year but a true Rabbits fan doesn’t forget.
“Being a Souths fan is so special. Only other Souths fans will know what it’s like being one.
“We’ve been through so much since 1908 – from years after years of success to the darkest day in our history when we were no longer involved in the game.
“Fans of other teams make me laugh sometimes when they complain about how hard it is to support their club – I just think, at least you have a club to support. For 2 years we didn’t and we fought so hard to get back into the NRL and survive. We had another decade of losses, but that all changed when Michael Maguire came to the club and I know I speak for most other fans when I say we are so thankful for everything he did, especially in 2014.”
The golden year. The year that every single South Sydney fan remembers like it was yesterday. They all can recite exactly where they were and what they were doing when they won the grand final 30-6 against the Bulldogs. From Sam Burgess’ broken cheekbone to John Sutton raising the trophy above his head, it was a magical game and one that so many consider to be their favourite memory. Leisa and Alice of course are no exception.
“I say to people it was the third best night of my life – the first two being the birth of my children.
“The week leading up to the game and then when the final whistle blew on 5 October 2014 and Sutto lifting the trophy above his head – it still makes me grin like a Cheshire Cat.”
“I always say I have 30 – 6 reasons as to why it was incredible.
“The week leading up to it, we did everything we could to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy it. We decorated the house in red and green, went to open training sessions, went to the Footy Show Grand Final show. It meant absolutely everything to us, our family and the entire South Sydney community.
“Whenever I hear the song Dog Days Are Over, I think back to 6 October 2014, sitting outside Redfern Oval, waiting for the team to arrive with the trophy and that song was playing over the PA. I sat there, tears flowing down my face, thinking that the dog days were indeed over for the South Sydney Football Club.
“43 years in the making – you can’t compete with that”
The thought of South Sydney taking on their rivals, the Sydney Roosters, tonight brings a smile to Alice’s face. She reflects on another game, different to the grand final, that has a spot in her list of favourite memories. Perhaps tonight, we will see a repeat.
“Round 19 2012.
“We made that special comeback against the Roosters. It was also the night my favourite game plan came to fruition – 12 points, 2 minutes.”
There is a lot of unity with the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Those men taking the field tonight against their arch rivals, with look at each other as family. In the grandstands, overlooking ANZ stadium will be the Curtis family sitting and watching as they do so many times a year. Occasionally, they will be joined by Patrick – Alice’s brother and Leisa’s son. He too will watch on proudly, a SSTID tattoo inked onto his skin forever to prove his passion. This game binds them together as a family. That is the power of rugby league.
“Rugby league is a part of who we are. During winter, no plans can be made without checking the NRL schedule first.
“Heading to the games each week together is a nice reminder of how important our relationship as mother and daughter is as well. Mum’s got her little superstitions and weird things she does before each game – sure I make fun of them every week but when there’s weeks she doesn’t do it and we lose, we know who to blame
“I feel alive when I am watching rugby league. The physicality of the game and the exhilaration you feel when you are there at the ground – if only you could bottle it.”