Inside this week's issue of Big League magazine... Credit: Big League Copyright: Big League
IT’S the type of play fans forget as soon as the next set of six has been completed.
When the television commentators go through their half-time breakdown it is lost in the whirl of sizzling tries, contentious calls and big hits that may or may not involve the use of shoulders.
But Ben Te’o’s coach saw it, and well after the full-time siren had sounded in their Qualifying Final win over the Melbourne Storm at ANZ Stadium two weeks ago, South Sydney coach Michael Maguire was only too happy to glorify the single effort from his right-edge second-rower that signifies the resolve in a team one win from a drought-breaking Grand Final appearance.
“The things he does for his team-mates are the things that make Benny Te’o, the little things that you just spoke about and how he turns up,” Maguire tells Big League.
“There were times there when he had a lot of pressure going at him and he looked after our little halfback at times on that right edge and I was really proud of him.”
You are forgiven if you have no idea of the play we are talking about.
It occurred in the opening minutes of the Rabbitohs’ 20-10 win over Melbourne as the defending premiers hammered away at the red and green defensive wall. Their own mistakes cruelled a number of chances but as five-eighth Gareth Widdop drifted across to the left it appeared the Storm would post first points.
Perhaps with a few more games under his belt Widdop may have had the acceleration to turn a half-chance into four points but just as he looked as though he would slide through the defence Te’o “turned up” with a one-on-one tackle that stopped Widdop in his tracks and helped to give Souths the momentum to build a 14-0 lead by half-time.
It was almost immediately forgettable, but it’s what the man himself wants to be known for.
“Bingo. They’re the ones, team plays, just covering for your mate and doing those little things. It used to be all about the big plays but now I’m just about winning plays. I try,” Te’o says.
“I’ve played in some good teams and I played some good footy in Brisbane but for me it’s about improving on little aspects. People watching in the crowd or at home might not recognise little improvements but my coaches and my team-mates do.
“I’m more about doing little things to try and help the team win. I’ve changed my mentality a lot since I was a young player in the NRL.”
That single play is not the only example. Te’o has made 89 tackles from marker this year – the most in the side – a play that stunts the opposition attack but rarely receives the plaudits. He has run 56 decoys predominantly on the right edge that attracts no fanfare but is integral in every effective attacking movement in the modern game.
But Te’o’s first season in red and green has not been without its challenges. He admits that, trading in Red Hill for Redfern, the former Wests Tiger found resettling in Australia’s largest city difficult and before he had even played a game he was relegated to the ranks of the NSW Cup with North Sydney for disciplinary reasons. Then, on the eve of his first full State of Origin Series with Queensland, he was embroiled in off-field controversy regarding an alleged attack on a woman in Brisbane, allegations the NRL Integrity Unit and Queensland Police investigated and decided no action was warranted.
Te’o declined to comment on how he handled the scrutiny, but Maguire commended him for coming out the other side.
“I’m always supportive of my players and through that period I’d like to think we were all supportive of him,” Maguire said. “They’re tough times but he made sure that he worked hard for the team and that’s what his focus was and I think that helped him to come out of it the right way.
“Personally I think those things always affect you. He’s a caring kid and everything matters to him but he made sure he was very thorough in the process and very honest and I think that’s why he set his mind on his footy and performed very well through that period.”