NRL fi­nals match up old and new ri­vals

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - BRENT READ RUGBY LEAGUE

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.”

Cameron Mur­ray

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