Koroisau and Co carry Luke to victory
Thrown into the intensity of an NRL Grand Final two months since last taking the field, Rabbitohs hooker Apisai Koroisau knew there would be moments of pain.
He knew that whether it was the frantic nature of the opening onslaught, the physical toll of a defensive workload likely to be as high as any player in the team and the lung-busting second efforts that grand finals are built upon, Koroisau knew he would need help.
That's why in the week leading up to the biggest game of his fledgling career the 21-year-old Fijian international hatched a plan to have the man he was rushed in to replace, the suspended Issac Luke, sign the strapping on his wrist before taking the field.
"I got him to sign it because I wanted to do it in his honour. He's been here for seven years and there's no other game that he would've wanted to play so I tried to do it for him," Koroisau said in the victorious dressing sheds.
"If ever I felt tired I just looked at my wrist and tried to keep punching. It was a real motivation and helped me during the game.
"I had it in my mind all week. As soon as I knew I was playing I knew I was going to do it for him and also my family and all the supporters and fans but especially Issac."
Such is Luke's status in the team that it wasn't only his understudy who took him onto the field with them but the entire team.
It could no way make up for the pain of missing a grand final after 168 games for the club but Luke told NRL.com that knowing his "brothers" were taking him into battle helped to soften the blow.
"I feel overwhelmed as a player for my brothers and my teammates to finally end this drought that we've been working so hard towards," Luke said.
"I don't reckon it was actually that hard [to watch]. 'Madge' (Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire) got me out on the field and the boys wrote my name on their wrists too so I was as much a part of that game as I could be.
"Everyone dreams about it and I dreamed about it. I was a bit emotional when I found out I got rubbed out but in saying that the boys prepared themselves well and got ready for a massive game and we got it."
The reintroduction of Koroisau midway through the second half was a pivotal moment in the Rabbitohs finally swinging momentum their way for good as the Bulldogs continued to fight to stay in the contest.
His searching run through the tiring Canterbury defence and clever work from dummy-half gave George Burgess the impetus he needed to score the try that broke the tense 6-all deadlock in the 57th minute and Koroisau continued to drive his big men up through the middle of the field set after set.
It was a disruption that had the potential to derail South Sydney's campaign but Maguire spoke glowingly of the manner in which both Luke and Koroisau conducted themselves in the club's biggest week in 43 years.
"What an inspirational little game he played. I said to him two months out, you just never know, you never know what can happen in sport," Maguire said.
"I had a few stories from the past where individuals come into games and had their opportunity and all of a sudden, to see Issac bow out the way he did, which was tough for all of us to take, he handled himself extremely well."
Off to Penrith from 2015 on a two-year deal, Koroisau said he could not have imagined a more memorable way to farewell the club who handed him his NRL debut.
"I just wanted to leave everything out there. I knew this was my last game for the club and what a game to be a part of," said Koroisau, who ran for 88 metres and made 26 tackles.
"I had a few boys talk to me, [Greg] Inglis, Matt King and [Michael] Crocker, about grand finals and they told me that it's just intense and that game, I just ran on adrenaline.
"It's been two months since I've played but all that adrenaline just kept me going and it was awesome."