Clark: Asotasi the first domino of success
Lifelong Rabbitohs fan and soon-to-be grand finalist Jason Clark says it hasn't yet sunk in that he is days away from playing in his beloved club's first premiership decider in 43 years alongside a host current stars of the game.
Clark, who declared himself fit to play the Bulldogs after overcoming a shoulder complaint, admits while it's nice to be playing with the likes of Greg Inglis, Sam Burgess and Ben Te'o, it may not have been the case if former front-rower Roy Asotasi didn't sign with the club in 2007.
"The signing of Roy back in the day was the first big signing for the Rabbitohs as a big name – I was still a kid then," the 25-year-old former Rabbitohs NYC captain said.
"I had just finished high school so for that to happen and to have a big name player come to the club, it was awesome."
Simply put Asotasi was the first domino to fall for the Rabbitohs in their bid to secure other big-time players, something Clark as a fan and a player will never forget.
Now, thanks to the influence of the premiership-winning prop and former New Zealand captain, Clark is afforded the opportunity to play with the current crop of Rabbitoh superstars as they head towards a shot at a premiership.
"It is exciting. I'm honoured. They are such great players that have played at the highest level and I'm just happy to be in the team," Clark said.
"It is a very hard team to make because we have such a good squad here of blokes."
While the signing of Asotasi allowed for a Rabbitohs resurgence of sorts, it was a different story when South Sydney was excluded from the NRL in 2000.
While it is all good and rosy for the former under-20s captain now out Redfern way, there was a time when as a 10-year-old Coogee Randwick Wombats junior thought his dream of playing in the cardinal and myrtle may have remained a fantasy.
"I was a young kid playing for my local team and I ended up going to the march with my old man," Clark told NRL.com of those dark days when South Sydney was kicked out of the competition, driving supporters to stage a protest march to Sydney's Town Hall.
"It was hard to not have a club to support for those couple of years – obviously it's a lot different now! It was tough to understand what was going on with the club, being so young."
Fast-forward 14 years and Souths' first grand final berth in four decades could perhaps see a childhood dream realised – something which Clark said hasn't fully sunk in yet.
"Every time I do think about how I'm going to be in the grand final on Sunday I get butterflies and goosebumps," Clark said.
"I'd never thought I'd be in this position. It was a dream just to play NRL so this week is certainly exciting."
The lifelong Rabbitoh said the occasion is, if anything, even more special for a couple of his senior teammates.
Club captain John Sutton, who this year broke Bob McCarthy's almost four decades old record of most games for the club, as well as Nathan Merritt, who also passed McCarthy's record this year before announcing his retirement, each made their NRL debuts for the Rabbitohs over a decade ago.
"They're two players that are known to be the heart of South Sydney and they really are. Merro lives just around the corner, he's die-hard Souths," Clark said.
Of his own excitement, Clark said he hasn't let himself look too far ahead.
"I've really surprised myself, keeping it within myself, I've got a little girl so she keeps me busy. To be honest I haven't thought that far ahead – I haven't let myself, but it does look like a great day."