Luke vital, say Rabbitohs greats
Two of South Sydney's finest ever hookers have thrown their support behind Rabbitohs No.9 Issac Luke as he prepares to learn his grand final fate at the NRL judiciary on Tuesday night.
Legendary Rabbitoh Mario Fenech has expressed his disappointment at the prospect of Luke missing the club's biggest game in more than four decades while former captain Sean Garlick went as far as to say the Kiwi international is the best hooker the club has ever had.
Luke and the Rabbitohs' legal team will plead their not guilty case to a Grade 1 Dangerous Throw charge at the judiciary on Tuesday night and Fenech believes it would be a cruel punishment to a player who has represented the club on 168 occasions since 2007.
"It would be a shame if we lost Issac. It would be a great honour for him to wear the jersey in a grand final," Fenech told NRL.com.
"Does a player deserve to miss a grand final for that? It wasn't too bad, it wasn't horrific, and we're talking a grand final here. Sonny Bill [Williams] is a class act, he dismissed it and said there was nothing in it and he understands that it means a lot to play in a grand final.
"I wasn't lucky enough to play in a grand final so credit to Sonny Bill, we're going to fight it on Tuesday night and let's hope Issac gets the honour to be able to play in a grand final for us. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed."
Garlick played 96 games in six seasons over two stints at South Sydney and, while acknowledging the importance of Luke to the current crop, says that the experience Panthers-bound hooker Apisai Koroisau enjoyed earlier in the year would hold him in good stead if he was selected in Luke's place.
Koroisau and Cameron McInnes shared the hooking duties between Round 4 and Round 11 while Luke was sidelined with a shoulder injury but if the suspension stands it will be a massive hole to fill in the middle of the ruck.
"I think he's the best hooker we've ever had and he's a big part of our plans, just as Michael Ennis is a big part of Canterbury's plans and most hookers are in every team. He's vital," Garlick said.
"His toughness overwhelmingly is the thing that stands out for him but also his ability to get the whole forward pack moving forward. He's an artist at exposing weak markers, slow markers, players who are on the ground and he does it every time. Every team knows he's going to do it but stopping him is another thing.
"The good thing is that this year we had to cover for him. He did his shoulder earlier in the year and Apisai Koroisau filled in fantastically. I know it's a big ask but should we need to fill that spot he did a great job.
"I haven't had a lot to do with Issac but when we see each other we say hello and there's a great deal of respect from me in terms of what he's been able to do for this team. He's been phenomenal and he's been a big part of building the team to where it is today."
Statistically Luke dominates a number of key categories among NRL hookers in 2014 despite missing eight games early in the season. His 1598 running metres from dummy half are 250m more than the next best, his 57 tackle breaks 16 more than next best Robbie Farah and his nine try assists are the equal of Farah and Glen Buttriss.
"He's a good bloke Issac. Issac Luke is a lovely man, he's a real fun fella and he's got a build... His legs are like tree trunks, they often can't put him down," Fenech said.
"He's a unique, natural talent, he's only a little fella but he's not that little. He's got his passing game down beautifully, he challenges the ruck through the middle, he's like a bull and he makes a lot of metres.
"He's an integral part of our team and I'd really be disappointed if he got rubbed out."