Affectionately known as ‘The Falcon’, Mario played Rugby League for 14 years with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, North Sydney Bears and the South Queensland Crushers, before taking up a role off the field. Now a One Community ambassador, regular guest on the Channel 9 Footy Show, and Rabbitohs membership manager, Mario is still one of the game’s most passionate people.

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Mark my words: South Sydney will make the semi-finals in 2010. I know we haven’t won a game yet – but success takes time!

We’ve got a lot of new players and a brand new coach – there are a lot of changes and it takes more than two weeks to get into the groove of things.

It’s a long season, but we’ve got the Sharks this weekend and I’m confident that we can get those two points and start a roll on.

Barring major injuries, South Sydney are more than capable of making the top eight… we should have made it last year.

But I think we’re ready to end the suffering for our fans.

We’re one of the most stable clubs financially, we’re one of the top ticketed clubs in the NRL and we have a platform from which to build.

So what’s gone wrong so far?

There is no doubt we were out-played and out-coached by the Sydney Roosters in Round 1.

Brian Smith is a great coach: when you look at the great coaches of the modern game – Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy – well, he would sit with them comfortably.

Smith was actually my first coach at South Sydney (under-23s in 1980) and to this day remains the best coach I’ve ever been coached by.

So in Round 1 I thought we were beaten by a better team on the day with a better game plan.

I was very but disappointed against the Gold Coast in Round 2 because we threw it away, but here is something a lot of people have failed to think about – all the hype surrounding the side this season has made life extremely difficult for them.

Take Sam Burgess, for example, who has received a lot of hype since arriving from Great Britain.

If I was playing for another club I would be thinking, ‘Gee they’re talking that Burgess up a bit – I’m going to test him out’.
 
Don’t forget that other players are proud too.

Scott Prince was on The Footy Show last week when Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin asked him how he felt about playing the Rabbitohs.

Scott replied: “We’re looking forward to it.”

When ‘Fatty’ asked why, he said: “Well, everyone has hyped them all up, they’re supposed to have the best pack in the comp… and we want to beat them.”

The hype gives other teams the motivation that might not have otherwise existed.

I don’t blame South Sydney for it.

Other than Dave Taylor being caught saying Souths had the best forward pack in the competition, most of the hype has been media-generated.

And you know what? It’s because the media recognises the fact that South Sydney in 2010 has a very good bunch of players and they should be delivering.

But as I said, I’m confident that will happen.

The bottom line is that I want to be proud of my football team. I’m not proud yet – but I’m sure we’re getting to that stage.

At the very least I’m sure we’ll be a competitive force in this competition.

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We’re only two rounds into the competition but I would like to congratulate everyone involved in the NRL for the shape our great game is in.

I have to give credit to David Gallop, Graham Annesley and the team at the NRL for that.

It’s no fluke that rugby league is more popular than ever and the guys in charge deserve a heap of praise for their efforts.

The progress the game is making at the moment is extremely promising: We’re heading towards the independent commission and we’ve picked ourselves off the canvas after the difficult days of Super League.

Much of that comes down to our great product

Rugby league is a dynamic sport, it’s physical and it is something that engages people.

Plus, the media isn’t stupid. If you deliver on the field, the media will look after you and certainly they picked up on blokes like Jarryd Hayne last year and Sam Burgess when he arrived this year.

These aren’t just talented sportsmen, they’re magnificent athletes.

The other reason for all of this is the salary cap – which certainly has its critics but is also the reason our competition is so close. The talent is well and truly spread across the 16 teams.

I don’t know about you, but I find it bloody tough to pick a winner these days!

I remember years ago I could sit there and circle three or four teams as certain winners on any given weekend and have only a few I might need to think about.

These days the competition is an unbelievably close one – and that excites me because I love rugby league. It has given me everything I’ve got and I’m proud to see it in such great shape.