Rugby League


Maguire heeds call of home

It was more than just persistent phone calls from Hollywood star and Rabbitohs owner Russell Crowe that convinced Canberra boy and now South Sydney coach Michael Maguire he was needed back in Australia.

A call from his mother, Mary, in July 2010, was the catalyst that made him think Wigan, in north-west England, was too far from home.

The second youngest of six children, Maguire and each of his siblings returned from scattered corners of the globe to be at the family's Garran home, beside their father Patrick as his fight with cancer came to an end.

''I was very lucky to make it back in time,'' Maguire said. ''The phone call came and myself and my two brothers and sisters made a bee-line for home because he's obviously been a massive influence on all of us.

''Family's a big part of what I believe in.''

Since taking charge of one of the world's most famous rugby league clubs this season, many have tried to work out what makes Maguire, this promising rookie NRL coach, tick.


Was it his education at Canberra's St Edmund's College, a school that has produced sporting stars such as Ricky Stuart, David Furner and George Gregan?

Was it switching from rugby union to league with the Canberra Raiders in the early '90s to play under super coach Tim Sheens, a man who has influenced so many coaching careers - Mal Meninga, Stuart, Furner, Craig Bellamy and Laurie Daley?

Was it the broken neck that ended his own playing career in 1998, an injury that forced him to turn to coaching?

Or was it, as most people point to, the five-year apprenticeship under Bellamy at a successful Melbourne Storm?

All had an influence, but none more so than the father who came from a pioneering Canberra family, but who left the land to drive a taxi for many years to support his family.

''He was probably the number one [influence],'' Maguire, now a father of three, says. ''He had a work ethic that was quite unbelievable really. He was a massive part of what I did. He was always there supporting us.''

''Disgusted,'' Mary says, with a smile, relaying her husband's initial reaction when Michael finished school and switched from rugby union to league. ''But he was always proud of the kids and he'd be so proud right now.''

Maguire says: ''My family was definitely rugby union. I always had a passion for rugby league though as a young kid coming through, I always snuck off and played a game here and there. The old man was very rugby union early on there but I managed to bring him round.''

His mother, Mary, is a convert too, although her allegiance is always to her son. ''She was a passionate Melbourne Storm supporter there for a while but now she's following Souths, she's got a soft spot for the Raiders too … she's a bit of a turncoat,'' Maguire says.

It's apt that Maguire has become a coach. As a player his mind was willing but, he ''had a body that just didn't want to play''.

He was once touted as a potential centre-replacement for Meninga in the mid-90s. But in eight seasons of first grade with the Raiders and Adelaide Rams between 1992-98, he played a total of 17 games.

The breaking point came in 1998, in Auckland, when Maguire was trapped in an awkward tackle by Warriors winger Sean Hoppe bringing the ball out from his own in-goal. He played on, scans later revealing he'd broken his neck. Doctors told him his playing career was over.

''I actually got my neck fixed, some vertebrae fused, but unfortunately I did it again in a different area [playing in Queensland in 1999]. That was the moment of truth when I realised unfortunately my career's over as a player,'' Maguire recalls.

''Even now I like to throw a jumper on and run around with the players, there's always that passion there. But when your body can't do it you look at other areas.''

Maguire, then a high school physical education teacher, began coaching junior ACT teams. One of them contained now NSW five-eighth Todd Carney.

From there he became a strength and conditioning coach for the Raiders lower grades, his promise recognised when Matt Elliott promoted him to an NRL assistant at the club in 2002.

He was Bellamy's right-hand man during Melbourne's successful run from 2005-09, before forging his own career at Wigan - winning the Super League title and Challenge Cup in his first two seasons as a head coach.

Through all that history, he is now aided by a support staff at the Bunnies that also has a strong Raiders influence - assistant Wayne Collins and strength and conditioning coach Shaun Edwards both worked at Canberra.

''You've always got a little bit of passion when you're going back towards the teams you've been associated with, I still do keep an eye on the Raiders from afar,'' Maguire says before tonight's battle with the Raiders in Sydney.

''I also keep an eye on Melbourne. But I'm enjoying working with this group, the players are very focused and hungry about what we're trying to achieve here. They recognise there's a massive improvement in us as a group so it's a good place to be as a coach.''

Having lost his first two games at Souths, the Rabbitohs have since won six of their last eight. It is a promising start for rugby league's most successful club of all time, which most recently has been starved of any success at all.

Crowe has been conspicuously missing from the grandstands. Maguire makes nothing of it, but you sense he's comfortable being free to call the shots.

''He's a busy man, he's overseas making quite a number of movies, but he's still in touch,'' Maguire says. ''We stay in touch, I'll leave it at that.''