Kearney's parting gift

If you’re an Eels fan and you’ve survived this far into the season, congratulations. Judging from your last turnout at home against Melbourne, there aren’t that many of you left.

Completely understandable, we suppose, given that with four games remaining you’re still rooted to the bottom of the ladder and questions about whether a wooden spoon could fit into the club letterbox are more prevalent than Nathan Hindmarsh’s never-ending but always‑entertaining supply of rear-end vision.

And now, not only are Parramatta clambering towards their third straight ‘Mad September’, but their inspiring skipper’s celebrated career is slowly dissipating without the decoration of a premier’s ring as well.

But, club legends wrongly retiring aside, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot to play for in August. Just ask Ken Sio.

Sio last year injured his shoulder and was told that his season – and possibly his career – was over before he hit the age of 20. He then worked overtime to cut down his recovery by a remarkable two months, only to then be thrown into rugby league purgatory, otherwise known as the Bundaberg Red Cup, for Cabramatta.

And that’s exactly where Sio thought he’d stay until “Horror Movie Wednesday” prior to Round 26 last season.

“I remember going up to ‘Mooks’ [Stephen Kearney] and asking if us Wentworthville boys had to be up in video. And then he just goes to me, ‘You will’. And I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ and I made my debut that week,” Sio recalls.

“I thought my dream was over when I did my shoulder because they said I’d miss the rest of the season. But by the end of the year I was in first grade after going Bundy Cup, then NSW Cup, then Bundy Cup again. Gradually I got the opportunity and I have Mooksy to thank. He believed in me and trusted me and gave me the opportunity to kick-start my career.”

Sio, you might recall, went on to score a memorable try on debut against the Gold Coast, in a match that had no implication on whatever sparkling finals footy was to be played in the opening few weeks of spring.

“Actually, it meant a fair bit to the whole side because if they didn’t win that game, they would’ve come last,” says Wentworthville Magpies coach, Brett Cook.

“So it was an important game for him to go up for. It was a reward for the hard work he did because he came back ahead of schedule.”

Cook is the man who promoted a then 16-year‑old Sio from Wentworthville C Grade, winning a premiership with him in the Bundy Cup in 2009 when he scored two tries in the grand final.

Cook is the man who has watched the local junior rise from having no representative experience at all to being one of just two players this season to have played every game for the Eels along with topping the team’s tallies in tries scored (12), line-breaks (14) and total metres (2,659).

In yet another losing season, Sio has been a breath of fresh air compared to the likes of Chris Walker, Chris Hicks and Paul Whatuira, who were hobbling around the Eels backline last season.

“I’ve been involved with Ken for over four years and you always knew he had the talent all along,” says Cook, who is currently assisting NRL interim coach Brad Arthur.

“But now that he’s bigger, stronger and faster – coupled with the fact that he’s got as much talent as hard work – it doesn’t surprise me how well he’s gone this year. And he’s always been a good trainer. He keeps to himself but he’s a professional.” 

Even after Monday night’s 51-26 debacle against the Tigers, Sio – whose 20-year-old sister Hanna is currently in camp with the Australia Sevens and 18-year-old sister Jasmine is another local league and union talent – insists there is plenty left to play for in 2012, beginning with sending club legends Hindmarsh and his mentor, Luke Burt, out on a winning note.

But there is one other matter of importance over the remaining month, and it comes at the behest of the man who gave Sio his shot at the NRL.

“It was the last thing [Kearney] asked me when we farewelled him with a team dinner. I went up to him to say thanks for everything he’s done for me but he quietly whispered to me and goes, ‘Kiwis?’” says Sio, who was born in Australia but moved to Auckland at the age of 11 and played much of his junior football there.

“I just said we’ll see. I’ll have to sit down with my dad and talk about it because he’s the boss. I haven’t decided yet.”