Content Inglis reveals future plans
When Greg Inglis made the biggest move of his career to rugby league's heartland this season, he just wanted to blend in - but it didn't happen straight away.
Now, in form and preparing for Monday night's must-win clash with the Eels, Inglis has revealed his contentment with life in Sydney, his plans to study at university and his hopes of extending his contract with the Rabbitohs.
The fact that the 24-year-old, regarded as the best centre in the world, was surprised at the attention he attracted upon joining one of Sydney's most famous clubs last December is an indication of how grounded he was after six seasons in Melbourne. It was also a reflection of the life the Storm players enjoy out of the media spotlight.
"I have found it pretty interesting," he said. "Obviously being at one club (for so long) and coming to another, it's my first big move. Coming from AFL heartland to a NSW rugby league heartland, it's quite astounding how different it is.
"You're more in the spotlight up here. Down there you could still wander the streets and sit around and have a coffee; no one would lean across the table and whisper something and the whole table turns around and looks at you …
"You really have to watch your manners and how you interact with people in Sydney. Chinese whispers get around pretty quickly up here I found out."
Those rumours of homesickness
One of those "whispers" was that Inglis was homesick for the Storm. After all, it was the club that signed him to his first professional contract aged 15, launched his NRL career at 18 in 2005 and his Queensland Origin and Australian Test career a year later, and saw him win premierships in 2007 and 2009 (despite the Storm being stripped of the latter title).
But Inglis said those rumours couldn't be further from the truth.
"I'm very happy up here," said Inglis. "I am definitely not homesick. I think where they probably would have got that from is that one journo asked would I consider going back to Melbourne and I said 'It's not out of the question, but I am happy here and have another two years on top of this one'.
"Hopefully everything goes well with the new coach coming through and you never know, they may put another contract on the line and I'll sign on the dotted line."
The battle to blend in at Souths
Inglis's move to Souths was not without drama but he officially became a Rabbitoh on Christmas Eve last year. He admitted the accompanying media hype and his pre-season hospital stint made him feel every bit the new boy when he finally arrived at Redfern Oval.
While Rabbitohs officials publicly stressed that Inglis was not the club's saviour in their quest to win the first premiership in 40 years, there was a lot of excitement about their high-profile acquisition from fans and even his teammates.
Souths captain Roy Asotasi admitted at the NRL season launch that the "guys can't believe he is coming here" and Inglis sensed that in his first few weeks. Now he just feels like "part of the furniture".
"It surprised me quite a bit," he said. "Coming from Melbourne, being surrounded by players like Cam Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Adam Blair and those players down there, to come to one of the famous clubs in rugby league and those boys sitting back and pretty much saying 'Wow, he's coming here' made me feel good.
"But then again, it also made me feel like maybe they didn't like it. I wasn't too sure. It was a new club and new players and I was trying to get to know how the group works.
"I just wanted to blend in. I didn't want to be put on a pedestal or anything."
Leading by example
Even though he has plenty of grand final experience to offer his teammates heading into the business end of the season, where they will most likely need to win all five of their remaining matches to make the eight, Inglis said he was "not a talker" at meetings or on the field and is happy for stand-in captain Michael Crocker to lead the way.
He prefers to lead by his actions, and his reputation as a big-game player is certain to see him rise to the challenges ahead of the Rabbitohs this month.
"I embrace a challenge," Inglis said. "I see it head on; I don't try to go around it, I just go straight towards it. I think that's just been belted into me.
"It's just the way I've played footy since a young age. My old man was a competitor and going to Melbourne, they are a very competitive side. Heading down there, it just got belted into my head too.
"My dad played footy back home. He was a big prop. I always admired my old man playing football and the way he handled himself on the field. I think he's pretty much the one I look at for inspiration."
Pressure of being the world's best
Inglis admitted there was "a lot of pressure" being branded one of the best centres in the world but he had been fortunate to play his career alongside four other players also considered the world's best in their positions - Smith and Slater on a weekly basis and Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston in rep football.
"I look at Darren Lockyer and how he has handled it and how he just keeps proving to be the best because he's always trying to improve his game," Inglis said.
"All through his career he just wanted improve on every single thing he needed to improve in, going from the world's best fullback to the world's best five-eighth.
"He's a remarkable player and to have played alongside someone like him in the Australian and Queensland side for six years, I have learnt a lot.
"And Petero Civoniceva as well; he's a genuine bloke and continues to improve. He is the old bull but he doesn't want the young one to come along and take his spot. To be up there, you have to be on your game all the time and keep improving on your game."
Centre, five-eighth or fullback?
Despite all the accolades Inglis has received at centre, he has also won a premiership playing five-eighth and enjoyed success playing at fullback and wing - so which is his favourite position?
"I've always been one that will play whatever position benefits the team," he said. "I've sort of made centre my own spot, my own position. Going to five-eighth for two years gave me a better understanding of what the big boppers do up front.
"I like the physical side of things; more the clash body-on-body and you get that with centre. If a lot of traffic comes your way you can make 30 tackles a game."
But when pushed, Inglis finally admitted to a positional preference.
"I think fullback is probably my best position; the one I have more of an understanding of. But like I said, it all depends on how the coach structures things and what players he wants to play where," he said.
Bunnies to fire in 2012
While injury has cruelled the Rabbitohs' 2011 campaign, Inglis said he had seen enough positive signs to suggest that 2012 was going to be a big year for the club.
"Next year will be certainly be a big change around and I think there will be a lot of individuals who will come out of their skin a bit more rather than sitting back and waiting for others to blossom," he said. "I think next year will be a turning point."
Inglis acknowledged the loss of players like Sam Burgess and Asotasi had affected the team's performance but he refused to use it as an excuse for Souths' current predicament. The Rabbitohs currently lie in 11th spot, six points out of the eight with five games to play.
"In the end you have to play with what you've got and on a week-to-week basis we haven't been consistent enough," he said.
"If we had have strung a few more wins together, we wouldn't be in this position and no one would be talking about injuries or what happened to Souths. We would be in a different position.
"Having the kind of players we had out was a big loss to us but the young players who came through delivered for us. We just have to make a good hard run for the next five weeks."
Last week's incredible come-from-behind win over the defending premiers St George Illawarra was a timely confidence booster for the Rabbitohs, and one that Inglis rated amongst the most satisfying of his career.
"It was very much up there. To have that feeling, that self-belief and confidence that we can be competitive and contenders in this competition was remarkable," he said.
"I was jumping for joy on the inside but it wasn't showing too much because I was in so much pain.
"Coming to training this week you could see a big turnaround in the boys' attitude … they were still talking about the game ... confidence can take you a long way."
Off the field, 2012 also promises an exciting new challenge for Inglis, who last week met with administrators at Sydney University to discuss his options and opportunities.
"I never really thought I would end up going to uni," he said. "But with the opportunity league brings up (to study) it's something you can't pass up. It is exciting.
"Going to Sydney Uni was like walking into a Harry Potter (movie) ... all those old buildings everywhere. I was surprised it wasn't dark and gloomy … it was pretty much a dead ringer for Harry Potter.
"I've never been to a uni campus before. I am looking at starting next year. I've got to have a think about what I want to do; what I'm interested in … not what interests other people."