What Did South Sydney’s Premiership Victory Really Mean?

TrophyBy STEVE MASCORD

LOTE Tuqiri’s face is ringed with digital voice recorders. He has a black premiership t-shirt over his sweat-soaked cardinal and myrtle South Sydney jersey. He admits retirement is tempting.

And then the dual international, who played in a grand final for Brisbane 14 years ago, is momentarily stuck for words. He’s trying to explain how South Sydney fans have made him feel part of this, this…..

“Movement,” Tuqiri says finally. “That’s what it is.”
We all think we know why South Sydney’s drought breaking premiership victory, finishing in a 30-6 grand final win over Canterbury at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, was so transcendent.

We all have different theories.

For some of us, it was all about Sam Burgess, chaired off by his team-mates in an unintentional re-enactment of how John Sattler left the SCG after a comparable feat of bravery 44 years earlier. One with a fractured cheekbone, one a shattered jaw.

Sattler’s coach that day was Clive Churchill. Clive’s widow, Joyce, presented Burgess with the man of the match award struck in Churchill’s honour, making him the first Souths player to win it.

Sam told in the lead-up to the game that his mother Julie had once mentioned she wanted to live by the sea. Now her four sons were big name athletes in one of the world’s foremost seaside cities, and they had granted her wish, although Sam was about to leave for rugby union.

Maybe we think it was those 43 years since the last Rabbitohs premiership; Souths had not won one in the colour television era. In 1971, most people back at the leagues club listened to a radio commentary of the 16-10 win over St George, with a transistor positioned next to a PA microphone.

Perhaps you see it as a triumph of the public will; the bunnies were excluded from the competition for two years and 50,000 people marched to save them in 1999. Maybe it was win for those people over big business – some will never forget News Limited’s involvement in the decision to exterminate the bunnies.

“We finally beat you,” a fan tweeted to Rupert Murdoch early on Monday morning.

Every Hollywood script needs an A-List actor. Russell Crowe’s takeover of the club he supported as a child, and the return on grand final day of the estranged George Piggins, who led that 1999 march, entranced tens of thousands.

And maybe the fairytale of the people involved is enough for you, Shane Richardson moving from Penrith for “a challenge”, Wayne Bennett turning the Bunnies down, Michael Maguire starting from scratch, Greg Inglis aborting a move to Brisbane when no-one met him at the airport.

There was Issac Luke, forced to watch from the sidelines following a suspension (“He shook hands with the judiciary at the end of the hearing and said ‘this is about the team’,” Maguire opined) but still photographed in a playing jersey at fulltime, his replacement Api Koroisau who won a premiership in his final game at the club.

John Sutton, long-suffering Rabbitohs lifer? “I can’t describe how happy I am – it’s been a long journey,” he said. “When Madge first wanted me to be captain, I wasn’t too keen.”

And also Alex Johnston, the kid who played Greg Inglis in a TV commercial, Ben Te’o, Sam Burgess’s flatmate also off to rugby union at fulltime. “Sometimes it takes decisions – Sam leaving and Ben leaving,” said Maguire.

“It’s tough to take when you first get that but they want to do it for each other and I think that’s been a big driving force.”

The list goes on. Crowe is probably lobbying for funding for the movie as you read this.

But Lote Tuqiri is right. What South Sydney’s victory represents more than anything is a movement, a cause, a triumph of the collective over almost every conceivable obstacle.

donate2There are more noble causes, I guess: world peace, freedom from hunger, saving the whales.

But Souths have been a cause for all the reasons above – and more – since they were kicked out of the premiership.

Strip away the hype and machismo and most football premierships are just that; a bunch of well played but exceedingly brave men finishing ahead of 15 other groups of same.

It’s not your imagination, it’s not hype and hyperbole to say this one was different. It was.

It’s been a class war for what was once a down-at-heel part of Sydney. It has represented the struggle of indigenous people in that city and nationwide.

It’s been a banner under which those who felt marginalised, ignored or victimised could march – for 15 years now. While the rabbits were out of the premiership, cab drivers would refuse to pick up at Murdoch’s Fox Studios.

But much more than people need a fullback to love, a media baron to despise, an old bell to revere and that black and white photo of Satts in 1970, they just need something to believe in, something to fight for, a reason to get up tomorrow.

Anything; a cause – or as Lote referred to it – a movement. Souths were the perfect storm of nostalgia and emotion. We live in an era of mass terror, mass stupidity, mass fear.

On the weekend we got mass elation.

“The last couple of minutes on the field were pretty emotional,” said Burgess, whose agent Chris Caisley slipped into the back of the press conference room as he sat down.

“I had the pain, I had the knock to my head, the feeling of being victorious. It overcame me at the time. Just to share the moment with the guys on the field, it was really emotional, the feelings that run through your body at that moment in time.

“Everyone who’s been involved in turning this club around …. I guess that’s why I feel emotional.

“It was tears of joy, certainly.”

Souths knew they had ridden the crest of a wave. They were going to share their success with as many people as possible.

“Ever since I’ve been here, we’ve spoken about the history of Souths,” said Maguire. “It’s part of what comes with Souths – Satts and Ronny Coote and Bob McCarthy. I could go on and on and on with all of those players.

“To recognise the past is a big part of what builds a club and they’re as much a part of this, along with everyone else who’s played for Souths. The community … it’s just been a ride.”

Shane Richardson is the first chief executive or club secretary to win premierships at different clubs. He watched the game with his son Brent and good friend, former Essendon CEO Ian Robson, from the players enclosure.

At fulltime, Richardson received 163 test messages from around the world – not including the two friends who flew in for the game from the United States and his brother who arrived the previous evening from Barcelona.

“What stands out in my mind?” he tells RLW. “Seeing the looks on the faces of Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess. I had never seen them cry before.

“It wasn’t just joy or relief, it was elation.

“I looked out at some 50,000 people and you know what? In the past people might say you didn’t know them. I knew them all. If they are members, I have their email addresses, I know their names, I know who they are.

“That was a very special feeling.”

As has become customary, the South Sydney players took the premiership trophy to the centre of ANZ Stadium around midnight on Sunday. They formed a circle, their chants echoed through the empty arena and champagne sprayed everywhere.

Richardson wasn’t there. Long gone. He had to make sure Souths Juniors was ready for the party, that security was tight and there was no trouble.

Next day, he was in his office by 9am. There was a fan day, a tickertape parade and the Red & Green Ball to organise. This is just the start for Souths, not the destination, as far as he is concerned.

“Souths Juniors was amazing after the game,” he enthused. “There was no trouble. What is the best way to describe it?

“I’ll tell you: you know that black and white film of the girl skipping down the street at the end of the second world war?

“Like that.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

uklqFq1414565478

THE JOY OF SIX: International Season Week Seven

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
McNAMARA STAYS
ENGLAND coach Steve McNamara has been retained. When asked by Set of Six what process would determine who has the job next year, Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood told us: “There is no process because there is no vacancy. Steve is 12 months into a two year contract.” When McNamara joined Sydney Roosters at the start of the year and his RFL contract was renegotiated, no term was made public. What of Australia’s Tim Sheens? He would no doubt be seeking a three year extension to take him though to the next World Cup. His old protege Mal Meninga could be an alternative candidate. Sheens said Australia only had one Test next year – even though the TV contract demands two

amazonSIONE SHATTERED
THERE was a touching moment on the field at fulltime on Saturday night when some Australian team staff had a whisper in the ear of captain Cameron Smith to let him know winger Sione Matautia was doing it tough. Matautia could easily have been the hero with a last-ditch try that was called back for a forward pass but was no doubt upset at the performance of opposite number Manu Vatuvei. Smith comforted Matautia in concert with some team-mates. We can’t remember Australia ever fielding a player with fewer than 10 games experience against a man with almost 200 – with the foreigner plying his trade in what was once the “Sydney premiership”!

DONT GET CARRIED AWAY WITH SAMOA
WOOD is also the chairman of the Rugby League International Federation and he has warned against getting carried away with the performance of Samoa in the Four Nations. There are calls for an annual New Zealand-Samoa three-Test series at Origin time. “Our priority must be to construct a clear, fair fixture calendar for all member countries,” Wood said, “Sometimes it is tempting to a react to a good one-off Test performance but only 12 months ago we all thought Fiji were clearly our number four country. We have to look beyond knee jerk reactions, our priority is to build countries four to eight,” Wood gave little away regarding the quest for an RLIF CEO, aside from saying the search was “on-going”. He said the much-vaunted 12-year calendar would be from 2018 to 2029, with the next two seasons already settled,

COMICAL STRIP
THE aftermath of the final was something of a strip show, with some Australian players throwing everything into the crowd by their jocks, Sam Thaiday emerged for the dressingrooms with his entire kit back and began flinging its contents into the terraces like an automatic sprinkler. Cameron Smith, Greg Bird and Greg Inglis were also very generous, The Kiwis performed a post-game hake and then returned to the ground when it was empty to reflect on the victory, as is now customary. They must have got a shock when the cleaning staff started shouting and applauding them as they stood in a circle some time around midnight.
JOHNSON STANDS UP
donate2SHAUN Johnson was so excited at fulltime he dropped the F-bomb on Triple M. The former touch footballer was probably man of the tournament and really came of age over the last month and a bit. He also made an interesting statement at the media conference: it was the first time he had been part of a team that had set a goal and them achieved it. That realisation will mean a lot for the Warriors in 2015 – Johnson could become an all time great. It was the first of the Kiwis’ four tournament victories over the last nine years to be registered in front of a home crowd and the first back-to-back wins against Australia since 1953.

2014 AND ALL THAT

THIS is the last Set of Six for 2014, although Discord will continue during the break. Where has the year left us? Some of rugby league’s problems can be solved, others can’t. Young men will always misbehave. Bigger, more wealthy sports will always poach players. Most of our solvable problems are a result of parochialism and self-interest. There are signs that these flaws are finally being addressed: the game is becoming more inclusive, there is a growing realisation there are too many teams in Sydney and the importance of international competition is finally dawning on even the most conservative commentators and administrators. We are getting more people of influence who don’t rely on the game as a meal ticket and who can therefore act with a greater degree of altruism. Onwards and upwards. See you in 2015.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

The Rabbitohs Star Who Prepared In Secret, Alone For A Shot At History

Ben Te'o/wikipedia

Ben Te’o/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

A TOP secret training camp under the Australian Institute of Sport’s Glen Workman has made Ben Te’o the man who can make the biggest difference in Sunday’s grand final.

Teo, banned for a month on a chicken wing charge in the lead-up to Saturday’s preliminary final against Sydney Roosters, stunned the competition with a powerhouse comeback, including an Herculean try, in the 10-point win over Sydney Roosters.

The rugby union-bound Teo refused to name Workman or say exactly where the training took place. It’s understood to have been on the Gold Coast, where the guru is based, and in Brisbane.

“Nah, I don’t want to talk too much about it but yeah I did a lot of off-site training,” said Teo “It’s been good. I met some cool people and it mixed up my training. It was good.

“I just want to get away because four weeks without playing is a long time. It ended up being five.

“Going away for two weeks and just to break it up and come back mentally fresh … Madge was happy enough to let me go after I tried to persuade him.”

While Souths received publicity earlier in the week for using experimental ‘patches’ under their wristbands and jerseys, Workman deals more in proven methods of making athletes stronger.

He started his rugby league training career on 1985 with Valleys and has served with the Broncos and a number of English clubs. Workman now specialises in kyak, diving, swimming, sailing and athletics practitioners, as well as talking on footballers occasionally for one-on-one training.

Teo said he was grateful coach Michael Maguire’s allowed him to leave Sydney during his absence from the playing field.

“I would have stayed around at training and got flogged every day. (I got flogged) somewhere else by someone else.

“It freshened me up mentally and I came back with a good attitude and that’s what he wanted me to do. I just tried to fight my way back into the team and play.”

Despite joining Leinster rugby union next year, Teo says we’ve not seem the last of him.
“I would love to come back, 100 per cent,” he said.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Six Highlights Of The 2014 NRL Regular Season

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

THERE Is something unnatural – even mean-spirited – about the finals.

For 26 weeks, rugby league is just THERE. Some weekends, there aren’t eight NRL games but no matter how well or otherwise your team plays, there’ll be a match to watch again in a minimum of a fortnight

That’s 24 matches in all – pain, sweat, ecstacy, danger, drama and heartbreak. Leave aside the commercial aspect and look at it as a football competition – 1920 minutes are played purely for the right to make the finals.

Once there, the maximum number of minutes of football you will be afforded is 320. The mathematics, therefore, answer the most basic of questions: how much more important is a final than a regular season match?

Six times more important. Every minute in a final is worth six during the home and away rounds. Put another way, the NRL season is the equivalent of running six times around a track to decide whether you make the final one-lap sprint, and what your handicap will be.

But it’s those six laps that often give us our best stories and our memories. Those six laps are what makes a season for most of us, not the hare-like sprint at the end.

From a logic standpoint, the play-offs are clearly an artifice – a construct intended to add excitement and therefore profitability to the back end of a sporting competition. We are often told performances under the pressure of sudden death are “the true test” of a team.

Who says? Why? Surely how many tries and goals you score, and how few you concede, are more impartial barometers. That’s why Manly coach Geoff Toovey said the minor premiers were not given enough credit.

Here at League Week, we’ve tried to redress the balance this week by recording and honouring the players and teams who passed the post first in 2014.

A football season is often described as “a journey” but for your correspondent, it has been many. At the time of writing, I have travelled 162,922 km this year, mostly in pursuit of rugby league.

A season for me is a blur of airports, insane taxi-drivers, rental car desks, wifi passwords and hotel loyalty programmes. What do you ask Greg Inglis after he scores the try of the century? How do you report Alex McKinnon’s injury when no-one will talk about it? How do you get Steve Matai and Anthony Watmough to comment on reports they’ve just asked for a release?

Here are my moments of the season – from the point of view of a travelling hack trying to cover them for radio, newspapers and the great Rugby League Week. They are feats which weren’t only observed, they were lived (your favourite memory may have missed the cut for a simple reason – I wasn’t there).

April 14: MELBOURNE SCORES AFTER THE BELL TO BEAT ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA

THE NRL would later confirm fulltime should have prevented the Storm scoring the winning try in a 28-24 win. Working for Triple M, your reporter grabbed the winning scorer – Young Tonumaipea – right on fulltime. Unfortunately, we were on the same frequency as another outlet, meaning Young sounded like he was broadcasting from Venus. The mobile phone was quickly produced, and interviews were submitted by email. The trouble with the clock was not immediately obvious but Dragons coach Steve Price told us on air: “When I thought it was zero, he still hadn’t played the ball. We were truly the better team tonight – by far.”

April 20: BIG PAUL VAUGHAN BAGS A TRY ON THE DEATH TO BEAT MELBOURNE’

WE were on the scene within seconds of the Italian International danced nimbly between defenders to score the try of his life. “I just picked up the ball, I don’t know what happened, it happened so fast,” said Vaughan after the 24-22 victory.. “I think there was a loose ball, I saw a couple of lazy defenders and skipped across and gap opened up and I went for it. I thought it might have been a possible obstruction.” It was the Raiders’ third win of the year – they would find them harder to come by over the balance of the camptain.

April 25: GREG INGLIS SCORES LENGTH OF THE FIELD SOLO TRY BEATING SIX DEFENDERS

THERE was a collective withholding of breath in the Suncorp Stadium media box as Inglis set off on this run for the ages. Surely, he won’t get there – will he? Even gnarled hacks applauded when he did. Coming to the South Sydney dressingroom doors later in the evening, Inglis said: “I think anyone can score one of them. You’ve got Benny Barba …you see a try like that from (Michael) Jennings over the years at Penrith. You just see all these naturally gifted players. It’s a bit unfortunate in our game that you don’t see enough of it.” He came close with another beauty in the return encounter.
June 7: CRONULLA WINS FROM 22-0 DOWN

CRONULLA’S season has been bleak by any measure. The ASADA controversy and suspension of coach Shane Flanagan meant 2014 was a write-off from the start. When they arrived at Suncorp Stadium in late Jun,e captain Paul Gallen had publically questioned whether caretaker Peter Sharp was giving 100 per cent. No-one expected them to win and they duly trailed 22-0 after 27 minutes. What followed seemed impossible; the Sharks started their comeback just before halftime and won 24-22. “I think it’s a turning point for the club – it doesn’t matter where we finish this year, and in my career – where we’ll remember when everything turned around,” he said. Days later, Carney would be sacked over the bubbling incident.

June 15: CRONULLA WINS FROM 24-0 DOWN

GENERALLY speaking, I don’t cover Sydney games for the newspaper. There are enough rugby league reporters in Sydney. But when they Sun-Herald gave me one, it was a doozy. Eight days after the biggest comeback in the Sharks’ 47 year history, they broke the record again – by beating the reigning premiers and world champions. Not only that, they did it without Sharp, Carney and captain Paul Gallen. Jeff Robson scored the winner with three minutes remaining, and the Roosters crossed with 11 seconds on the clock but the try was disallowed because the referees were unsighted. “I thought I got it down,” Mitch Aubusson said. Cronulla’s round 25 display in Townsville almost got the wooden spooners three mentions here.

JULY 20: RISE FOR ALEX

NEVER mind that Newcastle lost their home game to Gold Coast, 28, on the Rise For Alex weekend. McKinnon’s injury was the saddest event in the careers of most of us. I covered the match and will never forget that night and what I witnessed and heard from the sidelines. But the Rise For Alex round was a testament to the compassion of the rugby league community and a platform for a brave, stoic young man who has already made a difference n the lives of so many and will continue to be beacon. The character, bravery and hard work of Alex McKinnon and those around him was best thing about 2014, and will remain so no matter what happens over the next four weekends.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Matt Scott: We Left Our Persecution Complex In Gosford

Matt Scott

Matt Scott

By STEVE MASCORD

NORTH Queensland co-captain Matt Scott has revealed the moment the switch flicked for the Cowboys this season – when the premiership hopefuls stopped blaming everyone else for their misfortune,
After winning the inaugural Auckland Nines, Paul Green’s side coughed and spluttered its way through the opening weeks of the new season, winning two out of their first seven matches
But despite the raft of changes coach Green has made at the club, it was a meeting of senior players following a 26-21 defeat to Manly In Gosford that Scott credits for refloating a fast-sinking ship,
“The Manly loss in Gosford earlier in the year was a bit of a wake up call for us,” the Australia Test star tells RLW.
“It was just about not making excuses, we obviously had a bad call go against us but when we looked back on the video, we saw how many moments we had in that game to win.
“Ultimately, it was up to us if we won or lost – not any one decision.
“It was players – player driven. We knew what we’d done wrong and how we had to improve to handle those situations,
“There’ve been a. number of moments during the season. It’s just about taking the game into our hands, it’s how we perform.
“We’ve got to be strong mentally.”
Scott said there was a link with leaving behind the club’s controversial exits from the last two finals series,
“Obviously, you talk about those finals losses, Manly and Sharks, there was a lot of talk about those decisions,” he said,
“But it’s like the Manly game this year – the game was in our hands, it was very winnable regardless of any refereeing decisions,
“We’ve got to take those decisions out of it and rake control of games.”
Scott has no firm view on how many shots at a title the Cowboys will get.
“I don’t even know what a premiership window is,” he says,
“We’ve got a pretty good squad, we’ve done pretty well this year but we definitely feel we’ve got a fair bit of footy left in us,”
He says allowing Brisbane to score 14 unanswered points on Saturday night was “a reminder that we’re going to have to be better than that to beat the Roosters.
“As far as being on the harder side of the draw? We would have had to play them eventually.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Finch Not Storm Will Determine Veteran’s Future

Melbourne - Brett Finch picBy STEVE MASCORD

A TEAM-MATE’S misfortune has given him the glimpse of a fairytale send-off and Melbourne Storm favourite Brett Finch is not guaranteed to play on next year even if the club asks him to.

Finch, 31, lines up against the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday with Melbourne’s big three – Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith – back from Origin duty and looks set to wear the no.6 jersey for the rest of the season.

After spending most of the season in the lower grades, Finch’s opportunity came with regular five-eighth Gareth Widdop’s dislocated hip suffered on June 24. He is yet to be offered a contact for next year.

“In the end, it will be Finchy’s decision rather than the club’s,” said the former NSW half’s agent, Steve Gillis.

“We’ve had some dialogue with the club but there has been no decision from them. We might know more in the next two three weeks.

“I spoke to Brett this week and he is comfortable to take his time over it. They might ask him to play on and he agrees. They might ask him to and he might decide against it.

“I guess it’s something like 50-50.”

The former Canberra halfback won a grand final with Melbourne in 2009, before joining Wigan where he pocketed a Challenge Cup winners medal in 2011.

The Storm held a match-eve training session in Auckland yesterday and reported no changes. The Warriors have the second best record, after Canterbury, in the NRL against the World Champions.

While this is often put down to their unpredictability, Warriors prop Sam Rapira insists the opposite is the case.

“(It’s) just applying pressure,” Rapira told NewsTalk ZB on Saturday. “When we have beaten them, we haven’t tried to score.

“It’s just come off our structure and when we’ve pushed that extra pass or that miracle ball, we end up losing.

“I think, as long as we stick to a plan and just keep in it for the full 80, we’ve got every chance of winning.

In form Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson has been identified as the danger man by Storm coach Craig Bellamy.

“If we get some number around him and put some pressure on him, hopefully he stuffs up,” Back rower Kevin Proctor said on the Storm’s website.

Teams for the match, which kicks off at Mt Smart Stadium at 12.05pm (Victorian time), are:

WARRIORS: Kevin Locke; Ngani Laumape, Dane Neilsen, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei; Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson; Elijah Taylor, Simon Mannering (c), Feleti Mateo, Ben Matulino, Nathan Friend, Sam Rapira. Res: Suaia Matagi, Jacob Lillyman, Todd Lowrie, Dominique Peyroux.

MELBOURNE: Billy Slater; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Maurice Blair, Justin O’Neill; Brett Finch, Cooper Cronk; Ryan Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hoffman, Kevin Proctor, Bryan Norrie, Cameron Smith (c), Jesse Bromwich. Res: Jordan McLean, Tohu Harris, Siosaia Vave, Slade Griffin, Tim Glasby, Ben Hampton (two to be omitted).

Referees: Ben Cummins/Henry Perenara