NRL finals match up old and new rivals
South Sydney prop Tom Burgess was reluctant to discuss the furore surrounding his brother Sam as the Rabbitohs edged closer to the grand final with a win over St George Illawarra.
He was more forthcoming on the prospect of facing the Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium in a grand final qualifier on Saturday night.
“This is why we play football — for these types of games,” Burgess said.
“It is all or nothing now. We’re in the same position we were in 2014 now — playing the Roosters in the preliminary final. There is pressure on everyone. I always say pressure is privilege.”
Not sure Sam would agree in the current environment. The elder Burgess arrived at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night, having woken that morning to see his face plastered across the front of newspapers amid a social media scandal after images sent from his Facebook Messenger account prompted a woman to make a complaint to the club.
The identity of the player who bared his genitalia has not been confirmed, although Souths have set up a panel to investigate the complaint. That investigation will formally begin this morning but at this stage the expectation is that if sanctions are deemed necessary, they won’t arrive until after the grand final.
It is a murky situation and one player is already understood to have armed himself with a prominent lawyer, the matter seemingly having minimal impact on the Rabbitohs’ finals campaign given their performance against the Dragons. They struggled early but came home with a wet sail to set up a preliminary final against their bitter rivals.
The NRL is hopeful that they can attract a sellout crowd of more than 40,000 to Allianz Stadium.
“We’re professionals,” Tom Burgess said. “We just had to stick to what we know. It’s not nice but there is a lot of media in our sport and you have to expect it.”
The focus is set to intensify this week, although the emphasis is likely to be on the field rather than off it.
The NRL could scarcely have scheduled it better. Souths and the Sydney Roosters boast the game’s oldest rivalry, their enmity stretching back more than a century.
The bitter feud between Melbourne and Cronulla — which will have its latest incarnation at AAMI Park on Friday night — is more the modern variety, the clubs having fallen out spectacularly at the end of 2015.
Little has improved since, the bad blood flowing freely, relations reaching their nadir earlier this year when Storm captain Cameron Smith was sin-binned, teammate Will Chambers was suspended and Sharks skipper Paul Gallen had to be separated from Nelson Asofa-Solomona at fulltime. They plain don’t like each other. The same applies to the Roosters and Rabbitohs, Souths coach Anthony Seibold having already applied the blowtorch to the Roosters by suggesting they were under pressure and his side had little to lose.
The Roosters spent big in the off-season, luring James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk to the club. The moves were made with a premiership in mind but they will count for nothing unless they can find a way past the Rabbitohs on Saturday night.
“Cooper is a world-class player, he has a great kicking game and he controls the team,” Souths halfback Adam Reynolds said. “He has played in a lot of big games — Origin, Test matches, grand finals. So he certainly has the experience. He is probably the form halfback of the comp.”
The Rabbitohs have pressure of their own, not least that which has been applied off the field by the social media scandal. Amid the corrosive headlines, there was good news yesterday when captain Greg Inglis was cleared to play after entering an early guilty plea to a grade-one dangerous contact charge.
Souths’ backrower Angus Crichton is Roosters-bound next year but his mind is on one thing only right now — ending his time at the Rabbitohs with a premiership.
“I’ve been really clear right from the start with the owners, the coaches, the players, the board, everyone … that I love this club and I love this team,” Crichton said.
“I said right at the start of the year, ‘I’m going to be here 100 per cent and I’ll put my hand up for this team for as long as I’m here in 2018’.
“There’s never been any sort of wavering on that, never been any doubt in my mind. There’s no denying that’s my goal in 2018 is to win the competition.
“But you have to think small steps, you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. We’ve got a huge game next week.”
South Sydney backrower Cameron Murray has spent time this year working at Macquarie Bank on a sports scholarship. No surprises then that the money play at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night was produced by the 20-year-old whose reputation has seemingly been enhanced on a weekly basis this season.
With less than four minutes remaining and the Rabbitohs trailing by a point against St George Illawarra, Murray stripped the ball from the grasp of Leeson Ah Mau to give Adam Reynolds a chance to tie the game with a field goal.
Having already nailed two field goals, Reynolds added a third for good measure to win the game with seconds remaining.
Coach Anthony Seibold afterwards described Murray’s play as a “game-changer”.
“Lucky it came off,” Murray said. “I knew that we needed a big play because we were down by one and I knew we needed to change the momentum. It was always in the back of my mind. Luckily we were able to clutch out of the game.”
That moment aside, Murray ran for more than 150 metres and churned through 31 tackles despite starting the game on the interchange bench.
He was thrust into the action early when George Burgess left the field with a head injury and he worked himself into the ground thereafter.
“One of my goals this year was to be in the starting 13,” he said.
“Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Seebs pulled me aside and said you have a job for the team, like everyone else.
“You do the job the best you can, we will go places. I focused on doing my job off the bench and I have found a niche and felt comfortable doing what I am doing.
“I come on and try to bring energy, bring some momentum.”
Murray was the first rugby league player to be win the Macquarie Bank scholarship, pursuing it with the same vigour and dedication that he has put into his rugby league career.
He wrote a 300-word explanation of why he would be a good candidate, he produced an academic transcript and he submitted himself for an interview.
As part of his preparation, he organised mock interviews with Rabbitohs chief executive Blake Solly and head of football Shane Richardson.
“It’s all good practice for hopefully what is to come after footy,” Murray said.
“I think I got all my nerves out in the mock interview. It was an opportunity that arose and it something that I built up some interest in. We will see where it goes and where it leads me. My parents always had a big emphasis on education.
“I grew up with a rugby union background and lucky now, rugby league is putting more emphasis on education and setting yourself up for life after football.”