RABBITOHS coach Jason Taylor and co-captain Roy Asotasi both described rookie hooker Issac Luke as “a superstar in the making” following his man of the match performance in the Rabbitohs 20-14 win over the Cowboys today.
In his run-on debut Issac Luke, who team mates nicknamed ‘Uncle Bully’ for his toughness – constantly tormented the Cowboys defence out of dummy half and was a rock in the defence in the middle of the park, an effort that earned him the Rabbitohs players’ player award and the Channel Nine man of the match honours.
Luke scored his first NRL try in his first game in the Rabbitohs no.9 and Taylor said he had a big future ahead of him as long as he kept working hard on his game.
“Issac had another good game for us, we need to keep his feet on the ground, but I thought he was the difference today,” Taylor said. If only the Bunnies had the hooker in place last week against the Eels, it could have made a difference to the side that has struggled in attack at times.
“When I brought him into first grade for the first time against Melbourne I was looking for a little bit more in attack. I didn’t know if he was ready and he was so nervous he was tired after one minute. Today when I pulled him off after about 25 minutes he wasn’t happy to get replaced so that is a good sign.”
Asotasi has acted as a mentor to Luke since he joined the club at the end of last year.
“He is a superstar in the making,” Asotasi said.
“He gives us that go forward he is so quick off the mark. We’ve got to keep his feet on the ground, he’s a fellow Kiwi and we have to look after each other.”
The Cowboys opened the scoring through an Ashley Graham try in the 15th minute for an early 4-0 lead. That was until Luke’s co-run-on debutante halfback Eddie Paea sliced through the Cowboys defence from close range for his first NRL try in the 22nd minute. With Nathan Merritt’s conversion the Rabbitohs led 6-4.
From there Souths looked the side most likely to score again but a Merritt penalty goal, after Carl Webb was penalised for a high shot on Paea, in the 40th minute was the only addition to the score and the Rabbitohs went to the break leading 8-4.
The NRL’s leading tryscorer Cowboys fullback Matt Bowen struck soon after the break for his 17th try in 18 games this year. And when Johnathan Thurston landed the conversion North Queesland led 10-8 after 45 minutes.
Luke then scored the Rabbitohs second try of the game in the 55th minute after a series of short passes on the Cowboys line to give the home side the lead 12-10. Five minutes later Paea put Ben Rogers through a hole from a scrum on the 50m line and the Souths five-eighth showed good pace to score his side’s third try. Merritt landed the conversion and Souths led 18-10 in the 61st minute.
Cowboys centre Scott Minto scored to peg the score back to 18-14 with 10 minutes to play which set the scene for a nerve-racking finish. Another penalty goal from Merritt, after Webb was penalised for holding down Luke in the play-the-ball, put the Rabbitohs a converted try clear and a 20-14 lead and that is the way things stayed until the full-time siren.
A loss would have had the Rabbitohs behind the eight ball in the race for the eight but now they remain well and truly in the hunt.
“We needed a win to stay in touch with the eight,” Taylor said.
“It’s exciting for our fans and exciting for our players and that’s what we set out to do at the start of the season. We wanted to be in contention for the top eight towards the end of the season and we are. For the fans and everyone associated with the club that’s very exciting.”
South Sydney Rabbitohs 20 (Eddie Paea, Issac Luke, Ben Rogers tries; Nathan Merritt 4 goals)
North Queensland Cowboys 14 (Ashley Graham, Matt Bowen, Scott Minto tries; Johnathan Thurston goal)
Crowd – 10,022.