CANTERBURY were the rival bidders when Russell Crowe famously bought the bell used in the first game of rugby league and they are again all that stands in the way of the South Sydney co-owner ringing it at the grand final.
Crowe, who is in the United States filming Noah, is set to ring the bell on the sideline at the start of the grand final if the Rabbitohs overcome the Bulldogs on Saturday night.
The actor paid $42,000 for the bell, which was used in the 1908 clash between Souths and Eastern Suburbs at Birchgrove Oval, at a fund-raising dinner to help pay for the Rabbitohs' legal case against News Ltd and the NRL after the side's expulsion from the competition in 2000.
The bell was donated to the auction by then 97-year-old Albert Clift, who Crowe allowed to ring it at the Rabbitohs' first premiership match after being readmitted to the competition in 2002.
In doing so, Crowe fulfilled a promise he made after handing over a $42,000 cheque for the bell at the fund-raising event held at Sydney Convention Centre on November 20, 2000, when he said: ''It will never be rung again unless Souths are in the competition.''
After helping the late Clift to ring the bell in Souths' return match, Crowe said it would not be rung again until the Rabbitohs played in a grand final.
With the club now only 80 minutes away from their first grand final since 1971, the Herald has been told that Crowe again plans to honour that pledge and will leave the set of the Darren Aronofsky film to fly to Sydney for the grand final.
However, the Rabbitohs must first overcome the minor premiers, whose directors bid against him for the bell 12 years ago.
''It's a great story, isn't it,'' Bulldogs director Arthur Coorey told the Herald.
''I was the bidder and I think I bid up to $41,000. There was only me and him and I think it went for $42,000.
''Russell said afterwards he would have gone to $100,000. If I had known that I would have kept bidding to make him pay more.''
Asked how serious the Bulldogs were about their bidding, Coorey said: ''We would have bought it. We have got a small museum in the club and we have got a lot of old artefacts, if you want to call them that, from rugby league.''
In doing so, Canterbury would have been helping to fund the Rabbitohs' court case for reinstatement and Coorey said he was glad the NRL's oldest club was not only back in the competition but now vying for their 21st premiership.
''Nobody can deny their place in the history of the game and it is great to see them back up at the top,'' he said. ''It looks like there is going to be a crowd of more than 70,000 on Saturday night so the atmosphere will be electric.''
He also praised Crowe, who did not become a stakeholder in the Rabbitohs until 2006, for his role in helping to save the club but said the bell now belonged in the ARL Commission's recently opened museum at League Central.
''It shouldn't be owned by one person,'' Coorey said.
''I am not having a go at Russell Crowe, he took the money out of his own pocket back then and paid for it, and that money went to help save Souths.
''But it was part of the first game so that is a piece of history that the commission should buy to put in their museum, I reckon.''