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Michael Maguire leaves no stone unturned to make it year of the Rabbits

Confident: Michael Maguire knows this year was a missed opportunity for Souths.

Confident: Michael Maguire knows this year was a missed opportunity for Souths. Photo: Getty Images

The rapid-fire enthusiasm that seems permanently attached to Michael Maguire's speech doesn't even disappear for a moment. You ask him if there is any concern that his South Sydney squad, which has reached the preliminary finals two years in a row, might just be that very good, consistent club side that simply cannot go the distance in the finals, and he doesn't flinch or pause in his response.

''I'm definitely confident [they're not that type of side],'' Maguire said. ''You've got to keep putting yourself into these opportunities, of playing in finals footy. We've now had two years of that. The boys are obviously getting more of a taste of it … it's just a matter of sticking at it, and finding those little ways of giving ourselves that opportunity again.''

The house that Maguire has built at Souths is made of sturdy stuff, with a fearsome forward pack and some brilliance out the back. But twice now they have faltered at the penultimate hurdle; first against Canterbury and then last season against Manly.

Many will wonder whether this year's Rabbitohs squad, favoured for the title at various stages through the season and only just pipped for the minor premiership by Sydney Roosters, fluffed their best chance. Maguire knows it was a missed opportunity but he can clearly see many more of them. And he looks at his most recent opponents as proof that consistency can be maintained for many years; the Sea Eagles made their ninth consecutive finals campaign on the way to this year's grand final.

''Manly have put themselves in that arena for a long time,'' Maguire said. ''When you go into finals footy, it becomes another level.

''They were able to find a way to get themselves a win in that game. That's our next step.

''We were a much improved team from the first year when I was here. We just need to set out and do that again in this next season.

''Right across the stats … they're not the be-all-and-end-all, but across a lot of the areas as a team, whether it be in our attack and our defence, we've got better numbers and we're a better team. But I'm also mindful that the whole competition's improving as well. You've got to keep moving, and looking at areas within your game to get better.''

As a result, Maguire has been moving rapidly since that defeat. He flew over to the US, along with players Luke Keary, Dylan Walker and Adam Reynolds, as well as high-performance manager Troy Thomson, for altitude training in Arizona.

While the atmosphere was new to him, the premise was not.

Through his time as an apprentice coach and then a head coach, he has visited Premier League football outfits and NFL clubs, and most recently the A-League's Western Sydney Wanderers, always looking for something extra. Perhaps he has found it this time, in that thin air, perhaps not, but he is constantly searching.

''It's just being aware of what's going on,'' Maguire said. ''I felt it was a good opportunity to take three players across and let them experience it. They did all sorts of things, from ball work through to weights through to climbing mountains. It's an opportunity to be in a camp situation and do it at altitude. They went over there with a great attitude to come back as improved players.''

Even though he is only 39, and a relative newcomer to the NRL, Maguire has appeared destined for head coaching for longer than most might think.

Well before he was the coach of the Rabbitohs, before he was in charge of Wigan, before he was an assistant coach at Melbourne and Canberra, he was a handy player for the Raiders and the Adelaide Rams. But after being forced to retire after neck problems, he looked for another outlet to keep him in the game.

''My body just didn't want to play rugby league,'' he said.

''I always wanted to be at this level; playing was my first choice, but I wasn't able to do that, so I turned to coaching.''

And that's when he first turned to overseas sporting outfits; with a backpack on, in 2001, he paid his way over to the US and knocked on the doors of the New York Jets, the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles and UCLA. Again looking and learning. And he is still doing so. He squirms and cringes when you ask him how he'd rate his first two years at South Sydney, and what his goals are for next year.

While he doesn't flinch when you ask him about his team, he doesn't enjoy talking about himself so much. But he sees himself in coaching for the long haul, and hopefully, he says, at South Sydney. Off contract at the Rabbitohs at the end next year, he insists ''that's going to sort itself out''. ''It's a fantastic club,'' he said. ''I definitely see myself here at this club for hopefully a while.''

5 comments so far

  • Lets face it, in the big games for the past 2 years,Souths have choked......
    .
    they led the comp for most of the year but in the end the Roosters demolished them in round 26

    they have lost a lot of experienced players and replaced them with unknowns.....

    Commenter
    the little master
    Location
    Daceyville
    Date and time
    December 21, 2013, 3:59AM
    • Can't help thinking that 2012 was their build up year, 2013 was their peak year and 2014 will be a downturn.

      Problem for Souths was that their peak year didn't peak quite as high as they were oh-so-confident it would.

      Commenter
      Joe the expat
      Location
      The Hague
      Date and time
      December 21, 2013, 4:25AM
      • I'm sure that Mr Crowe and Mr Holme a Court would like to keep you,but near enough is not good enough.
        Winners are crinners and you have not won a premiership,so I think that it will be a case of you being told to go and be near enough somewhere else.

        Commenter
        Saso
        Date and time
        December 21, 2013, 10:02AM
        • I'd love to see him try a couple of positional changes - we've got some apparently great halves in Dylan Walker and Luke Keary, who need to be used better and more. I know the pack is getting pretty crowded but John Sutton should be considered for lock.

          It isn't just about making players better; using them in the right positions is important, too.

          Commenter
          Perspective
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          December 21, 2013, 12:06PM
          • Adams Reynolds went missing in action when the Sea Eagles smashed Souths in the game to determine the first grand finalist

            a good half back takes charge and guides the team around....Souths fell at the final jump......when Reynolds was at the helm

            it remains to be seen how Reynolds and his teammates recover from their last demoralising game of the season...

            Commenter
            Baxter Fairmont
            Location
            Leura
            Date and time
            December 22, 2013, 1:21PM

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