Even after meeting high-profile Souths owner Russell Crowe yesterday, Penrith Panther Luke Lewis looks set to turn his back on a previously accepted 4-year contract to link with the Bunnies next year. It seems Lewis is adamant his decision to go back on the agreement and stay with the Panthers has nothing to do with the turmoil engulfing Souths at present.

“I dont want to share the details but a family situation has arisen, which is tough,” Lewis said. “What’s going on at Souths has nothing to do with it. If it wasn’t for a family issue, I would be heading there for sure. Catching up with Russell was a great experience and we didn’t really talk about football. NRL is the least of my worries at the moment.”

New Souths SEO Shane Richardson said he felt their was still a chance of keeping the former Kangaroos and NSW back line star with Souths, however Panthers power broker Greg Alexander said last night he was “fairly confident” Lewis would remain at the foot of the mountains.

Penrith still have until round 13 to mirror Souths’ offer, but Lewis confirmed: “I expect a decision by Thursday at the latest.”

This latest problem was something Souths simply didn’t need, given the current problems at the club. The addition of Lewis would have added confidence and attacking prowes; something they desperately need at the moment.
Jeremy Smith, who was a virtual hero for the Bunnies last year has not been picked in the top grade since Round 6 and he is expected to sign with another NRL outfit or possibly head to the UK Super League after being told he will not be needed at the Rabbitohs in 2009. An interesting situation given that Jeremy Smith along with Dean Widders both left Parramatta with their coach and now seem to have been left high and dry. Halves partner Ben Rogers is also believed to be on the outer.

Souths sources also hinted that a player clean-out could be on the cards, with veterans David Kidwell, Dean Widders, Nigel Vagana and Shannon Hegarty all seemingly under pressure to keep their deals for future seasons. Vagana is unsure if he wants to remain at Redfern, while Kidwell, Widders and Hegarty have a single year remaining on their deals. It’s certainly a long way from around this time last year, when Russell Crowe declared his feelings for Dean Widders; saying “I love you Dean Widders” in a Souths ‘bonding session’.

Observers at a Darlinghurst cafe yesterday revealed that coach Jason Taylor had an intense meeting with Russell Crowe at according to the bystander, Taylor remain adamant that several of the players had let him down and he reinforced this to Crowe.

CEO Shane Richardson totally denied a player clean-out was coming. “There’s no truth in that at all. It’s quite amazing some of the stuff that goes around.”

Another veteran Souths player, speaking anonymously, said it was frustrating not to have been consulted on the decision to appoint John Lang as a coaching director at the Bunnies..

“It is hard, it’s a bit frustrating. I think this will be cleared up pretty soon as long as they don’t keep us in the dark too long,” he said. “JT was saying that [Lang] would not have that much to do with what we do on the field. I’m not too sure what John Lang will actually do but I don’t think he is going to be involved in the footy side of things.”

Richardson said Lang would not specifically have a hands-on position and would more likely be looking after “football matters, not coaching”. However it’s hard not to see the experienced Lang getting involved more directly with Taylor and the team; Lang had an unflappable style and he would be a big help to the struggling Bunnies squad who are seriously down on confidence at present.

Asked was the John Lang appointment a case of ‘jobs for the boys’ – given the two mates have been side by side at Brisbane Easts, Cronulla and Penrith – Richardson said: “It’s not a case of jobs for the boys. John Lang is one of the most successful coaches in the game. We’re not in a good enough position to ignore someone of his ability and experience.”

“John won’t be working with the day-to-day running of the team but putting in place the best possible systems to make sure we succeed.”

In other Redfern talk, former power broker George Piggins remains vocal – the outspoken Souths man is now constantly in the news as his team struggles. It is amazing how Piggins was so quiet while things were going well for Souths; now you can’t turn on the TV without seeing Piggins on every channel ready to put the boot into his beloved club. This time Souths were forced to seriously refute claims by former chairman George Piggins on broadcaster Alan Jones’s radio program yesterday morning that its charity arm, Souths Cares, has not accounted for $2 million of Federal Government funding to find jobs for indigenous people.

By ricky

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