Date: June 16 2012
EELS coach Stephen Kearney and his main playmaker, Chris Sandow, are still breaking new ground in their working relationship. This week, they have had that talk a coach feels he should have with a player who might be at risk of being driven by emotion and over-playing his hand to the detriment of the team.
Sandow will play against his former club, South Sydney, for the first time at ANZ Stadium tonight. It was the Rabbitohs who brought the Queenslander to Sydney, gave him his first-grade debut in 2008 and developed him to the stage where the Eels came calling with a deal understood to be worth $550,000 a season.
He still has many friends at the club, and will obviously be keen to do well as a matter of pride. But sometimes that can lead to a player trying too hard, and coming undone.
''We've had that chat this week, and he's very mindful of that,'' Kearney said. ''It is an emotional night when you play against your old footy team, especially under the circumstances with Chris. It's always a tough one, but he'll have a number of experienced players alongside him, which will help. I think the important thing for Chris is making sure he has a real focus on what he needs to do to get his job done.''
Sandow joined Parramatta in a blaze of publicity, with huge expectations, but he has struggled to fit in after being so at home with Souths. Asked where he thought his No.7 was at with his game, just past the halfway mark of the season, Kearney replied: ''He's getting there. For the first half a dozen, eight weeks, it was nowhere near what we were after, and what he is certainly capable of, but he's getting there. I think the process has got better for him over the last month, and he's slowly getting to what I think he's capable of. The confidence in the whole group has taken a positive turn over the last month, and I'm sure he'll be a beneficiary of that.
''There's been glimpses of what he can do over the last few weeks. It's a big game for him this week, and it's important for Chris to make sure he's getting his hands on the ball. If he does that, I'm sure we'll see a big game from him.''
The announcement yesterday that veteran Eels winger Luke Burt will retire at the end of the season, as will 32-year-old captain Nathan Hindmarsh, will further reduce the average age of the club's playing roster, but Kearney does not want to put any pressure on Sandow by making him a member of the team's leadership group at this stage. The 23-year-old already has enough responsibility on the field.
It was Jason Taylor as Souths coach who handed Sandow his debut back in round 13 of the 2008 season. The Rabbitohs had lost regular halfback Craig Wing to injury in round one and struggled to find a replacement. Sandow was in the club's under-20s team, but he made no secret of his desire to make the position his own, showing the same confidence off the field then as he has on the field since making his debut.
''He obviously knew the team was struggling and we were looking for options in the halves,'' Taylor said. ''I recall a certain day seeing him out on the oval after training and he yelled out: 'I'm ready, you know, I'm ready'. He was always letting me know that he was up to it. Most young guys coming to a club wouldn't say that to the head coach, but he did.''
The Rabbitohs had won only one of their first 11 games before Sandow was thrown into the top grade, but his promotion coincided with South Sydney's five-game winning streak. Taylor admitted he had kept a close eye on Sandow, who had been brought to the club from Gold Coast by recruitment manager Mark Hughes, while he was in the under-20s.
There was no shortage of confidence in his style of play, and it was the same confidence off the field that attracted Taylor.
''The first time I had a chat with him he told me he wanted to challenge me to a goalkicking competition,'' Taylor said. ''It did happen. I kicked a goal from the sideline and he missed. So that quietened him down a bit. But his cheeky little nature makes him who he is. I never wanted him to lose that.''
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