THE WRAP: NRL Finals Week One

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

MY furry colleague at Rugby League Week, the Mole, last week wrote that Greg Inglis was unlikely to play in the World Cup due to his ongoing knee problem.

So when the finals series kicked off on Friday night, a couple of hours before kick-off between South Sydney and Melbourne at ANZ Stadium, I asked the Rabbitohs coach about the situation.

“I get asked that every week,” said Michael Maguire, who your correspondent interviewed pre-game for Triple M.

“To be honest, his knee’s where it needs to be. He got through a full week’s training this week, which is a real positive for us.”

You’ll remember the first week of the 2013 finals for your reasons. Maybe your team won, maybe your team lost, maybe your team is the North Queensland Cowboys which means they should have done the former but ended up doing the latter.

Maybe you’re Matt Cecchin or Henry Perenara, in which case you will never forget the weekend just passed.

Me? I spent the weekend doing a lot of radio; so much so that I still have the vestiges of a headache from wearing headphones for hours on end. So I’m going to do turn this week’s wrap into a kind of Things You May Have Missed – stuff I came across that slipped between the cracks of the daily news cycle.

FRIDAY:

Maguire went on to secure his first win over Melbourne, 20-10.

“We missed the start last time against Melbourne, we missed it against the Roosters,” said Souths utility Chris McQueen said.

Jason Clark suffered a knee injury at training and was in doubt right up to kick-off.

“We had the captain’s run last night and we were pretty confident,” he said, “But we left it right up until the game.”

SATURDAY

While his team-mates celebrated, Todd Carney cut a disconsolate figure as he limped towards the tunnel with a serious hamstring injury after the 20-18 win for Cronulla over North Queensland.

“The leg feels a bit sore,” he told me “It’s a bit disappointing, I can’t soak it up with the boys. I’ll have to do everything possible to get it right for the game.

“I wouldn’t have played if it wasn’t 100 per cent. I did everything I had to do yesterday but obviously it fatigued and it’s gone wrong again.

“It was a sharp pain, like happened a few weeks ago, and it just got worse as the game went on but I couldn’t leave the field.”

Shane Flanagan on Carney: “He hasn’t torn the hamstring, he’s just getting referred pain from his back.”

The Sharks had been unaware of Beau Ryan’s seventh-tackle try. Paul Gallen: “I just found out about it off Ryan Girdler. Sometimes you get things go your way, sometimes you don’t. We’ll take it.

“I suppose the NRL probably thought Melbourne were going to be here but they weren’t. Too everyone’s credit, the Roosters fans and the Manly fans, they turned out to watch us play as well.”

The Cowboys didn’t know either. Antonio Winterstein: “We didn’t have any idea, that’s the first time I’ve heard about it. We can’t do anything about it now. I thought he (Kane Linnett) had it there. The replay showed otherwise.”

Despite the rancour afterwards, Matt Bowen was nothing if not a sportsman. “It is disappointing to go out the way we did but in saying that, full credit to the Sharkies. They wanted it more than we did,” was his remarkable comment.

“It wasn’t meant to be tonight. In saying that, we did a couple of things to hurt (ourselves) in the first half. We can’t do anything about it now. They got the win and they get to play on and we don’t

On his future, Bowen said: “I’ll have to make a decision next week. We’ll see what happens.”

Coach Flanagan’s heart sank when Bowen got the ball with a few seconds left. “He was the one person in the rugby league world I didn’t want to have the ball,” Flanagan said.
A time keeper approached Flanagan while I was waiting to speak to him, to explain the confusion at fulltime over time on the clock.

“They just explained to me it was the clock the referees see on the ground.. The actual referees and time keeper did tell him there was 11 seconds to go. It was just a technical glitch with the game clock that all the fans saw and the players see as well.”

Does he care that the seventh tackle try took the gloss off the victory?

“I do care. It was done earlier. These things happen in our game, it’s human error. The referees, if they made a mistake, they didn’t mean it, I’m sure.

Neil Henry has been painted as a conspiracy theorist but he also said this to me, on the ABC: “No-one goes out to deliberately get the tackle count wrong. But with the number of officials they’ve got, they should get it right.

“I think the refereeing, overall, has improved a bit. We saved a couple of our worst decisions for the big stage.”

The next game was a 4-0 win for the Roosters over Manly – the scoreline from a certain preliminary final in 1992 which this Illawarra fan would rather forget.

“We’ll improve our attack next week but that’s the way we need to be defending at this time of year,” said Roosters five-eighth James Maloney.

All the points were scored by young winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. I asked if he’d ever done that before.

“It’s a first try for me. I’m glad I was able to get the points for the boys.” He then gave this gem of a quote: “We just looked at each other and said ‘this is who we are, this is the game we play’.”

The big worry for Manly fans must be backing up six days after and out-and-out war Geoff Toovey: “We’re fortunate we’re playing the Cronulla Sharks. They had a tough game here today as well, against the Cowboys. Very physical there as well and they played a similar type of football. Hopefully they’re as bumped and bruised as we are.”

I spoke to Roosters coach Trent Robinson after the game and again the next day on ABC’s The Hit-Up

“I grew up watching the eighties games and enjoyed that sort of footy,” he said. “The courage that used to get shown back then, we had to show tonight – along with Manly, We both showed it.

“Both sides should be proud.”

SUNDAY:

On Sunday, Robinson paid tribute to Steve Menzies, whose career ended with Hull’s 14-4 win over Catalan on Friday night.

“It’s a bit like Sonny coming here, my first head coaching gig, I recruited Beaver. He allowed me to coach him. He doesn’t need to stop, the way that he’s still playing.”

Video referees Justin Morgan and Luke Patten were booked as guests before the seventh tackle furore. Asked if video refs are supposed to keep count for the men on the field, Morgan said:  “Yes. That is right. It’s somebody’s role in the box to keep the tackle count during the match for reinforcement and correction. It would have been somebody’s job last night.?

And do you tell the referees about major blunders at halftime?

Morgan: “For me, it’s very similar to coaching. You have to know the individual. You have to know how they’ll take that information on. Some referees will want to know. They’ll want to know that information. They’ll want to know ‘did I get that right?’ ‘Did I get that wrong?’

“Others, you most probably need to be a bit more gentle … most of them, if they ask you the question, they want a straight answer.’

The final guest before I headed out to see Newcastle eliminate Canterbury 22-6 was Parramatta chairman Steve Sharp.

“We’ll have something in the pipeline in the next week, or two maximum, as to who’s going to be our coach,” he said.

Do players joining the club next year have get-out clauses? “In fact, if they don’t want to come to our club, I don’t really want them there. We want people who want to play for the club.”

What about the Bulldogs chasing Jarryd Hayne? “Jarryd’s got a contract with the club which he has just extended for two years. There is no getout clause. Jarryd’s going to be here in 14 and 15 at least.”

Filed for: SMITHYSPEAKS.COM.AU

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THE JOY OF SIX: Round 24

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

TOMKINS GOING NOWHERE

WE long ago just started assuming that Sam Tomkins is joining the New Zealand Warriors next year. But at one point, his coach at Wigan Shaun Wane was supposed to be going as well. Wane has now extended his tenure at DW Stadium – and had it extended by another year as a result of Sunday morning’s Challenge Cup final victory. And according to Wane, his fullback is going nowhere. “He’s a contracted player with us,” Wane told Joy Of Six. “I’m hoping he’s going to be here next year and I don’t see that changing”. Team-mate Blake Green said he had a gut feeling on Tomkins’ intentions but didn’t say what it was while Parramatta-bound Lee Mossop reckoned Tomkins was “a closed book”. What did the man himself say? Nothing. Media were kicked out of Wembley before he emerged from the dressingrooms.

SOME THINGS DON’T CHANGE

MELBOURNE’S 60-point mauling of Parramatta only fuels the perception that we have a lopsided competition. This has led to a number of proposals for change, including the Eels coach Ricky Stuart calling for the return of reserve grade. But stats guru David Middleton recently conducted a study of average margins in premiership games going back to 1908. He also tried to assess the evenness of competitions in the salary cap era by looking at the number of teams who won 50 per cent or more of their games. The results, published in the current edition of Rugby League Week, show very little change over the years. The average margin in 1908 was 14 points, this season it’s 15.4. In 1925., the average margin was 6.7 points but Souths won the minor premiership by such a stretch, mandatory finals were introduced the following year!

SHOULDERING RESPONSIBILITY

THE North Queensland-Newcastle game was a microcosm for the debate over the shoulder charge rule and allegations of diving. Referees say the deterrent to players staying on the ground is that the video referee can only intervene if the offending player deserves being reported. The tackle on Brent Tate, which stunned the Cowboys centre, was worthy of a penalty only. Tate didn’t take a dive but the way in which it was dealt should have discouraged others from doing so, even though the lack of a penalty was somewhat unjust. On the other hand, Kade Snowden’s challenge on Ray Thompson would have brought stern action in any era, regardless of whether shoulder charges were banned. He clearly made contact with the head – Thompson suffered a broken jaw.

ON REFEREEING

IF THERE is one inequality in the way we use the video referee in rugby league, it was summed up when Gold Coast’s Albert Kelly took an intercept defending his own line – something that is generally physically impossible – and streaked away from the Warriors defence. Nearing the tryline, it was as if he was looking for someone to tackle him. Why? Because if he had been pulled up short and the Titans scored on the next tackle, the video referee would not have the power to go back and check if he was onside. The old cliché, ‘what if this decides a grand final’, comes to mind. Video referees should be able to tip to referees in this circumstance. On the BBC on Sunday morning, we had the video referee mic-ed up and his discussions with the on-field officials broadcast. What do you think?

PRESSURE DOWN

COLLEAGUE Peter Fitzsimons touched a raw nerve by going over the records of South Sydney coach Michael Maguire and prop Jeff Lima with wrestling and extreme tactics. Some would say if you go into a game with an injury, you have to expect it to be targeted. But most would argue that targeting a specific injury with an illegal tactic or manoeuvre is different than just running at someone and is beyond the pale. That being the case, should we take intent into account in handing down charges and suspensions? Is illegally attacking someone with a known injury a case of bringing the game into disrepute? We will only find out the level of premeditation years after players retire, when they start spilling the beans. If there are beans, media men and judiciary members will look back with a good deal of regret at have gone easy on the nastiness.

JA, THE WORLD CUP

IT may seem like the longest shot in sport but South Africa are serious about staging the 2017 World Cup. Your correspondent witnessed a detailed presentation from the SARL in London Friday night, to countries attending the European Federation AGM. I’m not sure how much I can repeat but suffice to say the Africans are bullish and intend to use major stadia, 13 of which hold more than 40,000 people. Even with 60 per cent ticket sales, they are confident of turning a massive profit. And each country would get a fairly significant grant from the organising committee, which includes key members of the syndicate that attracted the FIFA World Cup. But in a country where the Olympic Committee still refuses to recognise that there is more than one rugby code, would anything like 60 per cent of tickets be sold? We can’t keep holding World Cups in England and Australia but 2017 is probably too soon to take a leap of faith like this.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

 

THE WRAP: NRL round 11

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD
CRONULLA coach Shane Flanagan and his South Sydney rival Michael Maguire have called for Monday Night Football to be scrapped on the weekends when State of Origin teams are picked or for NSW and Queensland to delay naming their line-ups until the club round is complete.
Flanagan said after last night’s boilover 14-12 victory over the Rabbitohs at Sharks Stadium he was upset that new Blues interchange forward Andrew Fifita had been gone into the NSW camp on the day of a vitally important club game.
While Fifita was the star for the Sharks in the absence of injured representative stars Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Michael Gorden, his coach was concerned the distraction would prove too much.
“Either don’t have Monday Night Football in weeks like this or pick the teams on Tuesday – simple,” Flanagan told NRL.com.
“For Andrew it was very hard but even the pressure that Gal was feeling… Gal wants to play and he’s got this Origin thing hanging over him, captaining NSW.
“Gal’s always known he’s going to be in the team. He’s a bit more experienced but the pressure on Andrew, not from anyone but the pressure of being selected and still having another game…
“It’s enormous pressure for players.”
Maguire opted to keep the Queensland selection of Ben Te’o and Chris McQueen from them before last night’s clash to minimise the distraction.
“You can tell players beforehand or after,” Maguire said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got a team that’s very focused on what we were trying to achieve. Unfortunately, as a group, we didn’t do that.”
Told of Flanagan’s comments, Maguire said: “I’m with Flanno (because of) all the distractions for players – who’s in, who’s out. Obviously there was Gallen and Lewis missing tonight after their selection.
“But full credit to Cronulla. They turned up without those players and performed very well.”
Speaking on Triple M, Flanagan said the 23-year-old Fifita thought he was doing the right thing by joining Laurie Daley’s Blues in camp on Monday.
“I was really concerned about the leaking of the (NSW) team,” said Flanagan. “We had three days with us playing on a Monday night.
“(Fifita) actually went into Origin camp today, which I was really disappointed in. I can understand the excitement and everything but I was disappointed he went in there today.
“(He could have) started tonight.
“It was a little bit of miscommunication on our part. It wasn’t the NSWRL’s fault. Gal rang him up and said ‘what are you doing? Do you want to come in for an hour?’ Doing the right thing, he thought … he went in there for an hour.
“In the end, it didn’t affect him. We won the two competition points. But I don’t think it was the right thing to do.
“From my perspective, I don’t think Greg Inglis was at his best tonight. Whether that was playing on his mind or some of the other Souths boys, I don’t know. It is tough to play, knowing you’re going into Origin camp.

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The A-List: JEFF LIMA (South Sydney, New Zealand, Exiles & Samoa)

South Sydney - Jeff LimaBy STEVE MASCORD

“We are never coached to do that stuff. It’s just awkward on the field, to be honest. Just trying to get someone on his back is hard. You always end up on the wrong side of it. We don’t work on those things, we don’t teach those things, in our training.”

If you’ve ever seen Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, you’ll know that look he gives people if he is trying to figure out if they’re lying. It’s an intense stare, waiting for the other person to flinch.

That must be the way I’m looking at Jeff Lima now, at the Park Cafe On Chalmers in Redern. You can guess what the preceding question was about:  Wresting. Grapple tackles. Chicken wings.

I think I see a tell-tale blink. Hang on, didn’t Melbourne wrestling coach John Donahue  put forward Brett O’Farrell in lala land at training with a sleeper hold in 2004? “I wasn’t there,” says Lima.

We here to chart the rise of Lima from schoolboy rugby union player in Auckland to NRL first grader, to French footballer, Storm grand final win, pantomime Super League villain and finally South Sydney funnyman.

Every club has a wrestling coach. Souths’ is a jujitsu champion. Jeff Lima claims he doesn’t exist. The denial is so ridiculous, it’s funny.

Lima, now 30, has for most of his rugby league career said very little and done much. We always had a vague idea that he had a sense of humour, but it was ‘for the boys’ only.

Now, the former Wests Tigers, St Gaudens, Melbourne and Wigan hard man – with the encouragement of his new club – is “going public” with a video series called Hey Cuzzie! on the Souths website.

But Jeff has rarely been interviewed in any depth. And when you consider he got suspended from the World Club Challenge in 2011 for a chicken wing in his very first Super League game for Wigan, you don’t have to dig too far to find a question on the subject.

Let’s leave that one for a while. If A-List truly is practise for a biography, then the first chapter or two would see Lima playing rugby union at school – before he joined his mother on a trip to visit some relatives in western Sydney.

“I stayed for a year,” he recalls. “I played under 14s at Penrith.” Current Penrith assistant coach Matt Cameron is the man who “discovered” the chunk, powerful forward, offering him a scholarship at Patrician Brothers Blacktown.

But Lima went home when the year was up, switching from union to league. “When I came back with the Junior Kiwis inn 2000, I ended up staying here,” he says.

It was then that Lima attracted the attention of Wests Tigers. “I went and trialled for Balmain, reserve grade,” he recounts.

“I was eligible to play 20s at the time. I was in reserve grade for two years and they offered me a contract there, at Wests Tigers.

“I enjoyed it as a young fella coming through. Obviously, I didn’t make the most of my opportunities. I was just happy to be in the top squad.

“I didn’t work hard enough to stay there.”

From there, came a rather obtuse move to St Gaudens in France, at the end of 2005. Lima had a knee reconstruction that year but the exact circumstances of his departure – after making his first grade debut in ’04 – are a little mysterious.

“David Kelly, our welfare officer (at Wests Tigers), his brother-in-law is the coach at St Gaudens,” he now explains.

“I wanted to travel, you know? Have fun. I was still young at the time. I just felt hungrier and hungrier to play footy again, when I got there

“I didn’t really have it in my mind when I went that I’d be back in the NRL

“I played one or two good games against the big sides and I thought ‘I should go back and have another crack at the NRL’.”

Everyone has stories about playing rugby league in France. “They drink red wine and smoke cigarettes,” Lima laughs.

“We played at Carpentras and most of their team were, like, gypsies. The refs, they’re scared of the whole town. We just had to get in there, do the job and get out. ‘

The Melbourne signing was handled almost completely by Lima’s agent, Sam Ayoub. Dennis Scott had been forced to retire and Ian Donnelly was injured – the Storm needed some back up.

“I was originally going to come back and play for Balmain premier league,” Lima recalls. “The day I got back, my manager said ‘pack your bags, you’re going to Melbourne.

“I wasn’t familiar with Melbourne at the time. All I knew was that they were top of the table.

“I spoke to (Craig) Bellamy. I thought someone was taking the piss out of me.

“In France, it was (train) Tuesday and Thursday, the rest of the week was get out on the drink with the Frenchies. I came back 20 kilos heavier.

“(Melbourne) was a shock for my body but as the weeks went by, I put in the hard work and towards the end of the year, he gave me a shot in first grade.

“At the time I went, it was just what I needed.”

Two grand finals victories followed – and both titles were subsequently stripped. “It’s disappointing but inside of me, I know we won those games.

“We worked hard for each other and most of us in that 2007, 2009 (teams), we were journeymen. We signed for nothing. Where we are now, that’s down to the coach.

“It’s the culture they had down there that turned us around and gave us more opportunity to play NRL.

“It’s lucky my wages weren’t in the paper – I was on matchies!”

Joining Wigan after playing most of 2010 for no competition points finally gave Lima the chance to earn some serious money. But, as we said, it didn’t start well. “I got suspended for two matches in my first game,”  he says.

Wigan coach Michael Maguire, by introducing wrestling tactics to Super League, was seen as something of a Dr Frankenstein among the supporters of rival teams.

And Lima was portrayed as his monster. “It didn’t bother me, to be honest,” Lima reckones. “As long as I’m there doing my job as best I can, that’s all they can expect from me.

“With the crowd, they’re pretty rough over there. With your own crowd, if you win games they’re being behind you and if you lose games they’re against you.

“You don’t let it bother you, you get on with games as best you can.”

In 2011, Lima won the Lance Todd trophy as man of the match at Wembley – and admitted at the post match media conference he didn’t know who Lance Todd was. (He’s a Kiwi who played for Wigan and Dewsbury after touring with the 1907 All Golds).

He says now he meant no disrespect. “Those things, you never hear of them when you’re in the NRL,” he explains. “It’s surreal, to be honest. It’s up there with the grand finals. At the time, I didn’t know how I was feeling about it.

“But looking back, it was enormous. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve had.”

In any case, the partnership with Maguure was such that Lima wanted it to continue. “I thought working under Madge had been worthwhile for me, for the last couple of years,” says the Samoan star, who reckons he’s only now discovering the truth in the maxim that props mature later than everyone else.

“I saw (Souths) as a club that was going places. When Michael left England, I sent (Michael) Crocker a text, saying that ‘you boys are lucky that yous are getting Madge’.

“I send (Maguire) a text asking if he needed any front rowers. ”

And here he is. Time, then, to back to Jeff’s first comment. As we did last we with Bryce Gibbs, we go back and ask him if he wants to add anything.

Given that every club has a wrestling coach, his comment is going to look pretty disingenuous in print.

There is just a moment’s hesitation, and then Jeff Lima says: “We just get taught to tackle around the legs. That’s all I want to say.”

This time, he’s not even pretending to tell the truth.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

RLW Season Review: SOUTH SYDNEY

By STEVE MASCORD

THERE’S one stark fact that tells the story of how South Sydney’s season ended. Insiders say the bunnies didn’t have a soft tissue injury for the entire season – until their halfback tore his hamstring 26 minutes into the preliminary final against Canterbury.
“And we were matching the Bulldogs, set for set,” winger Nathan Merritt reflected. Some in the bunnies camp are confident they would have won had Adam Reynolds stayed on the field. Others concede Canterbury would have been hard to hold out anyway. We’ll never know.
But that only tells the story of how Souths’ season ended. It doesn’t tell the story of how the season was played – which was bravely, entertainingly and even stirringly. In the lead up to the preliminary final, Souths jumpers of every era from no sponsor at all through Smiths Crisps to today were dug from the bottom of closets and worn proudly to work, school or just to the corner shops.
Souths – at one stage dismissed as a millionaire’s plaything – had evoked the sort of solidarity that once led to the streets of Sydney being blocked by protesters. The disaffected, the lapsed supporters were back and the achievements of the team encouraged them to stay.
“Our fans, they like to see a team that tries,” says chief executive Shane Richardson. “That’s all they ask. And I can’t think of one game this year where the team didn’t.
“Our physio and medical staff did such a good job during the year that in our final game we had a full squad. So to have the game influenced by the sort of injury we didn’t have all year … well ‘disappointing’ is an understatement.”
After the 32-8 defeat to Canterbury on September 22, disappointment was evident. But in the post-match media conference and in the dressing sheds, it was eclipsed by something else that was almost palpable – pride.
“Greggy (Inglis) trying to stop that try right at the end – that’s what this club is all about now,” said coach Michael Maguire.
“As a playing group and as an organisation, we’re proud of where we’re heading. We’ve learned a lot of lessons this season and we’ve fought through various adversities at times.
“We’ve had wins and losses and I’m very pleased with the way the players have fought back after those situations. I’m pleased with the season but I also know as a team we’ve got a lot in front of us, to keep working.”
Co-captain Michael Crocker summed up 2012 (16 wins, eight losses) succinctly and perfectly: “We’ve come a long way in 12 months.
“We’re all about building our own history and our own culture and we’re all really proud of what we have achieved this year. Obviously we’re disappointed with the result (against Canterbury) but we were beaten by a better team. We know we have to work on that, work hard in the off-season and make sure we’re better next year.
“The support … 70,000 people … the support for us all year has been outstanding. It’s great for the game to have all those people here tonight, great for the club to have that support behind us.”
South Sydney players seemed to tacitly accept that they were in the top four sides in the NRL – which is a great improvement from 2011 (11 wins, 13 losses) – but not the top two.
“It’s been enjoyable definitely,” says the talismanic Greg Inglus. “Obviously it was a bit of a surprise to a lot of people, the switch to fullback (for me). It wasn’t a surprise to me. Michael Maguire tossed that up the first round of the season. I just had to work on my game, keep developing throughout the year.
“We’ll get back into the tough work of the pre-season, get a good pre-season under my belt and get ready to go back next year. Hopefully Sammy (Burgess) gets picked for the English side. He (plays for them) for a month and hopefully Luke Burgess gets picked as well.
“The best thing about this is we can take these feelings now. It sort of drove us, the finals loss in Melbourne. It really hurt us. We had to get back. We fought our way back but it’s the same – we’re very disappointed with the way it went (against Canterbury) and I think it will drive us through the whole off-season.”
Winger Nathan Merritt has seen some VERY lean times at Redfern. He says they won’t return any time soon and that fans which were once considered fickle will now be diehard.
“In previous years, we haven’t had too much support behind us,” said Merritt. “This year, we’ve strung a couple of wins together, played some good football, finished in the top four and we had a lot of support from our fan base.
“It was great to see from our perspective. We definitely love the crowd getting behind us and it definitely helps out on the field.
“I definitely think they will (stay). We’ve got a great squad behind us and we’ve just got to keep improving each year. This year was a great boost from last year.
“We’ve just got to take it forward to next year now. We’ll have a big pre-season and take that on board ….  I think the fans will stay around because we’ve pretty much got the same kind of squad around and we’ll be competitive next year.
“We had a good experience in the finals for this year. We’ve got to take that on board, remember this pain and how much it hurts and take it into 2013 and improve on what we have to do to get to the grand final and win it.”
Hear that? Whether Souths ever stopped being the pride of the league is debatable. But even after falling a week short in 2012, Souths now have pride in themselves.

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  • Merritt: I Wish Maguire Was Here Years Ago

    By STEVE MASCORD

    WINGER Nathan Merritt says he wishes coach Michael Maguire had joined the club “six or seven years ago”.

    While Merritt’s comments after Saturday’s 32-8 preliminary final defeat to Canterbury were interpreted as deeming the season a failure, the man who made his debut for the Bunnies in 2002 is excited about what has been achieved.

    “From my experience, I’d loved to have had Madge around five, six, 10 years ago at this club,” said Merritt, 29.

    “This club’s been lacking someone like Madge for years. Madge has got so much passion and belief in us and it rubs off on us.

    “He showed his authority straight away, just the way training was … he took it up 10 levels from what we’d done previous years.

    “He changed a lot of the club. The whole thing, he changed it around, just the way he controlled the team. He makes the team gel together and the bond is a lot closer this year.

    “As you can see, we’ve been competitive all year.”

    While fans decried a possible eight-point try (Canterbury only got six from it) awarded after a challenge from Sam Burgess, and the loss of halfback Adam Reynolds in the 26th minute, the players themselves reckoned they were beaten by the better team.

    Burgess said of the eight-point-try: “I’ve not seen one of them for a long time but the refs call it as they see it … I don’t think it would have made too much of a difference to the overall score. It’s irrelevant.

    “Losing Adam, whose been a huge part of our team all year, is not ideal. We lost a little bit of direction, lost a bit of shape.

    “Adam didn’t deserve to finish that way, He’s had a cracking year. He’s certainly taken charge of the play throughout the year. For him to finish that way is obviously sad for Adam. I feel for him. He’d certainly have added something to our team. His kicking game is a big part of what we do.

    “We certainly missed him but we’re not taking anything away from the Bulldogs.”

    Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

    THE WRAP: NRL 2012 Round 21

    By STEVE MASCORD

    THERE is a great contradiction in the South Sydney revival: while there are countless stories associated with the Rabbitohs’ run, there are few quotes to slot into those stories.

    That’s because coach Michael Maguire, who went to Wigan with the assignment of restoring their glory days and achieved that aim spectacularly, has instructed everyone associated with the club not to talk about premierships. The hype surrounding Souths since Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court took over has clearly been the biggest obstacle to them justifying it, in the coach’s eyes.

    “Obviously my experience over there has definitely helped me with what I’m trying to do here,” says Maguire. “They’re very, very similar clubs with all the expectation.”

    But that’s not the only English link to Souths’ run for their first premiership in four decades. In their squad are Sam, Luke and George Burgess. Brits in the NRL are still a novelty, as they were back when the bunnies last won the competition.

    To have three in the same club, in the salary cap era, who are brothers speaks volumes for the sort of atmosphere the rabbits are trying to engender at Redfern. And next year they may be joined by a fourth Burgess, Tom.

    Sitting next to George in the ANZ Stadium grandstand on Sunday, watching Souths beat Wests Tigers 32-6, was England coach Steve McNamara. Souths’ recruitment of Sam, Luke and George could one day – soon – see all three of them don St George’s Cross together, an achievement that happens maybe once a generation.

    And the Burgess family will have Souths to thank for it. McNamara wouldn’t comment but Wests Tigers’ England back rower Gareth Ellis says Luke is ready

    “He’s certainly playing … the best football he’s played in his career,” Ellis, who has stayed on the field for all but a few minutes of his first two games back from long-term injury, told NRL.com

    “He’s really carrying the ball forward and he’s not just a bit-player now. He’s one of the big go-forward men for Souths, in such a big squad. It’s great to see him out here and playing so well and I’m sure he’s on the radar when it comes to selection for England.”

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    THE WRAP: NRL Round 19 2012

    By STEVE MASCORD

    YOU would think that a Neville Nobody like me would appreciate the opportunity to have a greater involvement in the radio broadcast of the match of the season.

    But when I learned that Andrew Johns had the flu and I was to be the sole sideline eye at last night’s Sydney Roosters-South Sydney epic, my feelings were less than enthusiastic. On Sunday night I got back from Canberra at 9pm. I got up at 2.30am yesterday to watch the Challenge Cup semi between Huddersfield and Warrington. Between 4.45am and 6am I slept again. And from 6am until it was time to leave for Allianz Stadium at 4.15pm, I wrote five stories for Rugby League Week including a 1500 word feature.

    Monday is RLW deadline day. What I really needed was two coach interviews at 5pm, two at 9.30, checking on injuries during the game  and that’s it – which is the way some Mondays go for me on Triple M’s Monday Night Football, if I’m lucky.

    Instead, I got a ringside seat for the closest thing we get to miracles now they’ve stopped adding chapters to holy books, an evening that should have reminded us all that rugby league is not just “product”, “content” or what might even be lucky enough to call work. After conceding two tries in the final three minutes to lose their last game against Sydney Roosters, South Sydney scored two in the same period to win.

    These co-incidences do not happen elsewhere in the universe. We are involved in a group endeavour that somehow creates an environment for them to happen, like some sort of Hadron Collider – but better. As he waited to be interviewed on air after a loss he described as “gut-busting”, Roosters coach Brian Smith still had the wherewithal to muse: “That’s what’s so special about live sport. That’s why people watch it.”

    Live radio can be scary if you psyche yourself out and it takes years to realise that if you stuff up, it’s no big deal. It’s not like you mucked up the moon landing and accidentally landed on Mars. It’s footy, after all. Before doing a sideline on the ABC, I scribble out a few notes – the team changes, weather and ground conditions on one page, a list of stats on the next, and a point on each player on the following two.

    Sometimes you do not use even one of those points in a call, but it’s a nice security blanket to have.

    Things went OK until fulltime but then the enormity of the game, the fact it would be talked about for years, and my fatigue kind of kicked in. As a print journalist, I would have been happy with the quotes we got from John Sutton, Issac Luke, Greg Inglis, Adam Reynolds, Brian Smith and Michael Maguire. So would my colleagues, just quietly, who were still waiting outside the Souths rooms almost an hour later!

    But as a broadcaster, I thought I was a bit untidy – some unnecessary pauses and slight stumbling over questions. You want to do the occasion justice.

    It didn’t help that Sutton and Luke were absolutely exhausted by the time I reached them a minute or so after the siren.. “We never give up in any football game, no matter how short the time is, and we just proved it then,” said Sutton. “There’s more bunnies supporters than Roosters supports here and it really helped get us home.”

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    Maguire Warns Of Warriors Backlash

    By STEVE MASCORD
    SOUTH Sydney coach Michael Maguire has warned his side to expect a backlash from an inconsistent New Zealand Warriors when the two sides meet at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday.

    Maguire says the Warriors side has talent right across the park so Souths will need to be on their game if they are to extend their
    unbeaten streak to three matches.

    “I don’t think they’ve got too many weaknesses – I think they’re a quality team right across the park,” said Maguire at Sydney Airport.

    “They’ve obviously had a rough couple of weeks but they’re a tough team, they’re a big team, they like to move the ball around and
    they’ve got some classy halves with good attacking people out on the edges.

    “It’s a matter of us making sure we turn up and do what we’re capable of doing.

    The Warriors team was grand finalists in 2011 but have begun the season with four losses – which included a heavy defeat in Canberra
    last weekend.

    The match on Sunday will see young winger Andrew Everingham match up against the biggest outside back in the competition – Manu Vatuvei.

    Everingham, who is in his debut season in the NRL at age 25, has held his own against Lote Tuqiri and Bryson Goodwin in the last fortnight and Maguire says the Newcastle-born winger will have no fears in Auckland.

    “He actually faced him (Vatuvei) in one of the games earlier on in our trials so he’s aware of the size,” said Maguire.

    “Now it’s another challenge for Evo (Everingham) to step up again.

    “He’s been doing a great job for the team and that’s what Evo is about he just works hard for the team and produces the performances he has done.”

    The Rabbitohs will be without experienced forwards Roy Asotasi and Sam Burgess on Sunday, and will hand debuts to Necrom Areaiiti and Justin Hunt off the bench.