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Craig Coleman rates South Sydney’s Issac Luke the second-best hooker in rugby league behind Australian captain Cameron Smith
They might have been mauled by the Bulldogs in last year’s Second Preliminary Final, but this week the South Sydney Rabbitohs, packed full of “premiership-winning potential”, are primed for revenge. 

South Sydney legend Craig Coleman believes the club has the firepower to win its 21st title in 2013 – and the desire to beat the battling Bulldogs who bundled them out of last year’s premiership race. 

Coleman says the combination of playing depth at the club, the knowledge possessed by a “magnificent” coach, and a halfback with a short-kicking game “as good as Peter Sterling’s”, could result in 2013 being the year of the Rabbitoh.

“For sure they can go better [this season],” Coleman, whose mum still lives straight across from Redfern Oval, tells 

“And we don’t know what could have happened had (halfback Adam) Reynolds stayed on [after suffering an injury in that game in last year’s finals 32-8 loss to Canterbury].”

This year, the Michael Maguire-coached Rabbitohs have started in fine fashion, winning their opening three matches with a distinctly Storm-flavoured squad and manner of play. Coleman, though, isn’t worried about his team being labelled copycats.

“That [Melbourne style of play] is the way Souths are headed now,” Coleman says.

“We’re playing a similar game plan – we’re big, strong, go straight through the middle and have a great kicking game with Reynolds… then we’ve got the bloke at the back (fullback Greg Inglis).”

Coleman isn’t so much pleased by the manner in which the team has recorded wins the past fortnight – sloppy victories against the Sharks and Panthers – rather just the fact the team secured the two points from each match.

“It’s been a good start,” Coleman admits. “They flew out of the blocks the first week (against the Roosters) – the last two weeks haven’t been the best performances but we got the two points when the old Souths probably would’ve got beat.”

The Rabbitohs’ new-found mental toughness, Coleman feels, is down to the coaching of former Storm assistant coach Maguire. 

“Maguire’s done a terrific job with them – they’ve got that bit of grit about them and they hung in there and hung in there and got the two points in both games,” Coleman says.

“Before Maguire came back, when they had games won they would lose them. He’s just changed the whole outlook and the whole culture of the club. 

“They’re fit, they look like footballers, he’s just done a magnificent job and we need to keep him at the club for a long time – we need to give him another five-year deal. 
“The way he’s turned that club around… all the players love playing under him because they’re learning, and when you learn you love turning up again.”

South Sydney’s potential success in 2013 rests on the shoulders of a core group of superstars, including fullback Inglis, five-eighth Sutton, halfback Reynolds and hooker Issac Luke. If they’re to lead the club to its first title since 1971, they’re going to have to prove to be the best both individually and as a playmaking and point-scoring unit. That means they’ve got to be even better than Melbourne’s sensational ‘spine’ – but Coleman, again, is far from concerned.

“Melbourne have the hooker, halfback and the fullback,” the former Rabbitohs halfback says. 

“Well, our hooker’s second best to Cameron Smith, the halfback’s on his way to becoming as good as Cooper Cronk and Inglis is Inglis – he’s as good as anyone!”

Reynolds, Coleman says, is one player in particular who’ll continue to blossom under Maguire’s tutelage.

“Reynolds is going to keep improving… and the best thing about him is having Maguire,” Coleman says. 

“As a young bloke the coach is everything. I had Brian Smith as my first coach and I was very lucky. Reynolds has got an outstanding coach in Maguire.

“The more games he plays, the more experience he’s going to get and the better knowledge he’s going to have of when to run and when not to run. I don’t think he can improve on his kicking game much – his short-kicking game’s as good as Peter Sterling’s. 

“With experience comes confidence, and as he gets older he’s going to be even more dominant.”

The praise of the Rabbitohs’ spine doesn’t stop there, though.

“Johnny Sutton’s had the best start to the year I’ve seen from him,” Coleman continues.

“And I’ve got no doubt that Luke’s the second-best hooker in the game. When he plays long minutes for Souths, we’re very, very hard to beat. He played [a lot of] minutes in Round 1 against the Roosters – he’s a powerhouse. Once he gets over the advantage line, no-one can control him… once he gets out of dummy-half no pack of forwards can get a hold of him.”

On Friday the Bulldogs will be desperately trying to keep Souths’ star point-scorers and playmakers under wraps – and they’ll be significantly boosted following the return of brilliant fullback Ben Barba. For Souths, the Bulldogs will prove their biggest test so far in 2013.

“They are last year’s grand finalists and even with a couple of players out they’re still a very, very strong team,” Coleman says.

“You saw last week what the Bulldogs can do – another couple of minutes and they might have beaten Melbourne. Any Des Hasler-coached side will be hard to beat… and [Ben Barba] will be desperate for a big game. He looks very fit and strong from what I’ve seen on TV – I don’t think he’s missed much training – and he’s just a natural footballer. It’s just like a run around the park for him. He just enjoys the footy and he’ll come in on the second-man plays and look dangerous in attack like always.”

Coleman’s excited about Friday afternoon’s clash at ANZ Stadium – but he’s even more excited about what lies ahead for his now-brilliant Bunnies.

“Souths fans should get excited,” Coleman says of 2013 and beyond. “They’re a passionate group and now we have a very good group of players. The South Sydney Football Club has gone through some tough years in recent times but it’s now a powerhouse and with Maguire there we’ll continue to be one.”

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