Inside this week's Big League magazine...
TO say that the injury to John Sutton was a poorly timed one for the Rabbitohs is like saying Michael Clarke isn’t much of a fan of English weather.
And while all eyes will be focused on young five-eighth Luke Keary as South Sydney face a Storm that seems to have discovered their full ferocity, I’ll be watching Sam Burgess closely to see how he handles the additional burden that comes with losing another of the side’s senior men.
Make no mistake, Sam Burgess is the heart and soul of this Rabbitohs unit but the 2013 season has thrown some challenges at him that have caused him to seek something of a lower profile.
The thrill of playing NRL footy alongside his twin brothers, George and Thomas, has been offset by the media attention surrounding a couple of incidents involving George that has made him somewhat wary of media motives.
This is a young man – he’s still only 24 – who at the age of 17 nursed his father through a terminal illness while juggling the demands of making his first grade debut with the Bradford Bulls in the English Super League.
Although he has moved back up to the front row in recent weeks – because that’s what his team needs from him – in the 12 games Sam has played at lock this year has accumulated a CVR rating of 525.44 per game. That is the highest of all players in the NRL who average more than 60 minutes a game and have played at least five games this season.
To my mind, he is the best forward currently in the game and his sole recruitment back in 2009 may have positive ramifications for the Rabbitohs for the next decade.
Although he is not the eldest, Sam is fiercely protective of his family and – according to team-mate Jeff Lima – is the head of the South Sydney Rabbitohs Social Committee, often organising the boys for coffee, lunch or simply a swim at the beach.
And now, with Sutton and Greg Inglis out for a couple of weeks at least, he has to lead a team whose supporters are now desperately hoping for the mere opportunity to end a 42-year premiership drought on the first Sunday in October.
It’s a lot for one man to handle, and if Souths are to go deep into September, it’s time his team-mates stepped in to take up some of the slack.
Our Finals Series puzzle will have a few more pieces solved this weekend with some intriguing match-ups involving top eight hopefuls.
The Warriors are in danger of slipping out of contention if they cannot upset the Sea Eagles; the Raiders face the toughest test for 2013 when they play the Roosters at Allianz; either the Sharks or Knights will assert themselves as genuine premiership threats at Remondis while the Titans can move into the eight if they topple the fast-finishing Bulldogs.
If you want your team in the finals, get to the ground and cheer them home.