Rejuvenated South Sydney captain Roy Asotasi has opened up about pre-season rumours that the club was ready to brutally discard him, revealing he was ‘shocked’ by the news until a phone call by chief executive Shane Richardson assured him he would still be a Rabbitoh in 2011.
Asotasi was named as the player most likely to make way late last year as the club desperately sought to find room for superstar centre Greg Inglis under the salary cap.
In the end it was Rabbitohs junior Beau Champion that was ‘sacrificed’ instead in a direct swap with the Melbourne Storm, but Asotasi told NRL.com ahead of Friday night’s crucial clash with Wests Tigers that speculation over his future had definitely caught him by surprise.
“It was disturbing at first – I was definitely a bit shocked by it all,” the veteran prop said.
“Thank God I was out of the country at the time!
“I had a call from Shane Richardson saying that there was an article in the paper saying they were looking to offload me, but he guaranteed me that I would be staying at the club.
“I think that was a great thing by the CEO, to give me a call and assure me that I was going to be captain for 2011.
“As I said, it was disturbing at first but when you get a call from the CEO it gives you confidence that you’re still wanted.”
It has been a difficult few years for Asotasi, with injury limiting his impact and ruling him out of end-of-season Kiwi tours in 2008 and 2009.
After helping Souths reach the finals for the first time in 18 years in 2007, he missed the 2008 World Cup with a pectoral injury, underwent a knee reconstruction in 2009 and was ruled out for another four weeks early last year with a shoulder injury.
Asotasi said 2011 is about proving he still ranks among the NRL’s premier front-rowers. He’s also intent on forcing his way back into New Zealand representative calculations, powering out to an average 108 metres and 28 tackles in 60 minutes a game so far in 2011.
“I think I have a point to prove to myself this year because I know the kind of football I should be playing. I’m very judgemental of myself,” he said.
“The last few seasons – I had a major injury that put me out for a while and obviously when you’re in that state, when you’re coming back you like to think that you are 100 per cent and are able to perform at the level you’re capable of but comparing it to what I have done this off-season, I just look back and realise how far off I was from my best.
“I’m not there yet, I’m still working hard towards it, but I definitely feel a lot better coming into 2011.”
Asked how he felt after an improved start to the year, Asotasi said: “Well it definitely helps when you’re training for three months in the pre-season. It’s something I haven’t had for a few years.
“Previous years I spent a lot of time in rehab trying to get myself right. The last two seasons I only had a month of running before the first trial so I’m definitely feeling confident that the three months of training I’ve had, pure running, has allowed me to put those other years behind me.”
The Rabbitohs have overcome a spate of injuries and consecutive losses to start the 2011 season to record back-to-back wins and will head into Friday night’s clash with Wests Tigers firm favourites to make it three in succession.
The Tigers are facing an injury crisis of their own with five regular first-graders missing, while Souths welcome back star back-rower Sam Burgess, but Asotasi said his side still needed to learn how to put their opponents to the sword after almost relinquishing an 18-point lead against Manly last weekend.
“We’re looking to play 80 minutes instead of 70,” he said. “We’re still looking to work on closing teams out and the Tigers are another challenge for us.
“We’re playing a Tigers side that is down with injuries but that’s often what makes a side dangerous. Benji will be looking to lead that side out. The confrontations between our two clubs have always been tough so we’re not expecting anything easy.”