"He’s a class player and he’s been a class player for us for a long time. He understands what he needs to do now within the group" ... Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire on Issac Luke. Photo: Simon Alekna
Michael Maguire has pulled the right rein much more often than he has pulled the wrong one in his first season as South Sydney coach. Yesterday was a good example, when the Rabbitohs didn't need Issac Luke to help them thrash struggling Parramatta.
At the same time as the first-grade game was going ahead at ANZ Stadium, Luke, normally the starting hooker for Souths, was at Townson Oval in Merewether, playing for North Sydney against Newcastle in the NSW Cup. He kicked four goals for what is the feeder club to Souths, in a 24-24 draw.
Luke, one of the most dangerous players in the NRL at his best, was paying for recent sins - a lack of discipline both on and off the field. Souths were proving they were the sum of many parts, not just one - although the great Greg Inglis did rather stick out with his fabulous performance in the 38-6 win over the Eels.
If there was ever going to be a stark reminder to Luke that a place in a first-grade side that is gunning for the premiership is something to be treasured, then this day was it. Now, the question is: Where do the Rabbitohs go with Luke from here? They play Newcastle in the final round at Hunter Stadium on Friday night. Does he make it back into the side for that game? Maybe.
''I'll review his game from the weekend, and if he performed the way I know he's capable of, well, then there's no reason why I can't look at how I can possibly fit him into the team,'' Maguire said. ''He's a class player and he's been a class player for us for a long time. He understands what he needs to do now within the group.
''It's great as a coach, for myself, to have the pressures of selection at the moment, you know, with the likes of someone like Issac out and [thinking] how I can fit him in with a good performance like that. I've got to see the video [of Luke's game] first and go from there. I haven't even heard how he's played at this stage.''
Asked if he wished to confirm or deny the stories that have been written about how Luke fell foul of the club, Maguire stuck to his policy of keeping the details in-house.
''It's all about performance, on and off the park,'' he said. ''Issac knows what he needs to do.
''Having him out there, with his explosive power and things like that, he will add a hell of a lot to us as a group. He understands what he needs to do to get back in the group, and there's no reason why I won't look at him this week.''
Maguire said Souths had proven over and over again this season that they were a genuine team, as opposed to a few star individuals with the rest of the players down a few rungs as support acts. ''I think the team has shown that right across the year,'' he said. ''The likes of Evo [Andrew Everingham] coming in there, and Justin Hunt. Nathan Peats went out for a while and came back in, and look at how he's performing.
''They're all learning, and I've got to give a lot of credit to my staff and the senior players for creating the cultures that are building here.
''It's a real, hard-working culture … We obviously had a couple of disappointing weeks with losses the last couple of games, but look how they performed today. They just bounced back and played how they're capable of playing.''