Bench press: Murray eager for starting role
Bunnies bench weapon Cameron Murray says one of his major goals in 2018 was to establish himself as a starting forward.
Despite failing to squeeze his way into a stacked starting pack, he is content with becoming arguably the best bench player in the Telstra Premiership.
Murray came up with the play of the game in his team's heart-stopping 13-12 semi-final win over the Dragons on Saturday night, pulling off a one-on-one strip on Leeson Ah Mau with three and a half minutes remaining and his team trailing by a point to set the scene for Adam Reynolds's matchi-winning field goal moments later.
"The opportunity presented itself and I was in a good position," Murray shrugged when quizzed on the clutch play after the game.
"I just tried my best, luckily it came off and probably put the team in a good position to equal the score. I trust Renno to get the job done and he did it. It was pretty clutch by him.
"I knew that we needed a big play and we were down by one and we needed something to change momentum. The opportunity presented itself and luckily we were able to close out the game."
Despite his superb efforts off the bench through much of the second half of the season and particularly the past three weeks (he was close to the team's best in a huge 51-10 round 25 win over Wests Tigers and again, with the go-ahead try late in an eventual 29-28 qualifying loss to the Storm last week), Murray still wants to prove himself as a starter.
"One of my goals this year was to be in the starting 13," Murray said.
"Unfortunately it wasn't to be. Seibs [coach Anthony Seibold] pulled me aside and said 'you've got a job for the team, and if you do the best you can then we'll go places'. I focused on doing my job off the bench and I found a niche and felt comfortable doing what I'm doing.
"I've found a nice position I'm in now and I'm starting to get my fitness up and starting to get used to it and my fitness up in certain areas and coming on in different areas."
Murray certainly isn't one of those bench players used here and there for 20-odd minutes of impact. In the past three matches he has averaged 56 minutes of game time and 174 metres gained. His 195 against the Red V was a game-high.
He has also had a fair crack at the starting role, with eight games in the first half of the year in the run-on side when Sam Burgess was suspended or playing at prop.
"Rugby league is like that, you're not always going to get what you want," he said.
"You're here for a reason and you're here to do your job."
Aside from Murray and Reynolds, the other real standout for Souths against the Dragons was in-form hooker Damien Cook, who took advantage of plenty of quick play-the-balls from Murray and his cohorts to rack up 156 metres – his third-biggest tally of the year.
Throughout Saturday's game, South Sydney's average PTB speed of 2.78 seconds was half a second faster than St George Illawarra's 3.3 seconds. Backs tend to have quicker play-the-balls as they are generally tackled by fewer players at once with less wrestle but among forwards Murray was among the best with an average of 2.8 seconds.
Only Tom Burgess at 2.82, John Sutton at 2.61 and Jason Clark 2.52 (from just five runs) were faster.
"Our game model is built around playing fast," Murray said.
"Having Cookie as one of the most dangerous out of the ruck and probably the quickest in the competition, he relies on quick play-the-balls.
"That's one of my [areas of] focus every week and one of my goals. I come on and try to bring my energy and momentum and quick play the balls are part of that. I try and do my best to carry with some intent and also play the ball fast."