NRL: Asotasi wants out on a high

By Michael Brown

Roy Asotasi had a fairytale beginning with the Bulldogs and could have a fairytale ending with the Rabbitohs. Picture / Getty Images
Roy Asotasi had a fairytale beginning with the Bulldogs and could have a fairytale ending with the Rabbitohs. Picture / Getty Images

Seven years ago, Russell Crowe wined and dined Roy Asotasi and sold a vision to the front rower.

It was one built on rebuilding the most successful club in Australian rugby league history and winning a first title since 1971.

Crowe can be convincing. Oscar-winning ability helps, but so does a bulging wallet and Asotasi became one of the best-paid players in the NRL when he signed a five-year deal with the Rabbitohs in 2007 for a reported A$450,000 a season.

It illustrated the club's ambitions, and a swathe of high-profile players have followed, but also the changing nature of the game.

Asotasi helped usher in a new breed of front rowers, with most props morphing from big battering rams into tall, athletic players capable of sleight of hand and foot.

He was also, in the words of Rabbitohs chief executive Shane Richardson, the player who kick-started the club's revolution.

"Roy was the best prop in the game at the time and his faith in the vision for the club has led us to where we are heading now," Richardson said this year.

Asotasi remembers meeting Crowe and was convinced Souths would become successful but admits now, with the Rabbitohs one game away from the NRL grand final, he thought it would come sooner.

"They said it wasn't going to happen overnight but it would happen," the 31-year-old says on the eve of tonight's preliminary final against the Sea Eagles. "I actually thought it would happen a lot quicker.

"It was easy to think it would even happen in 2007.

"Finally I feel like the club is in the right space because we feel like we are leading the competition on and off the field. We have over 28,000 members, good sponsors and are doing well on the field. What I envisaged back then is happening now."

They still haven't achieved the main goal yet. They were eliminated at the same stage last season and will come up against a Manly side who might be battered and bruised after two tough matches over the past fortnight but have belief and momentum. It will be Asotasi's last shot at winning another NRL title. He leaves at the end of the season to take up a two-year deal with Warrington in the UK Super League and, although sport has little regard for sentiment, is clinging onto the chance of a perfect finish.

"I want to believe in fairytales," he says. "Former Rabbitohs player Jaiman Lowe struggled for many years and won one at Melbourne last year. He had a fairytale ending. I would like something similar."

In many respects, Asotasi had a fairytale beginning, winning a premiership with the Bulldogs in 2004.

"I was still pretty young then," he says. "It was my first year in regular first-grade and I probably took it for granted. I thought, 'how easy is this? I can't wait to win many more'. But it's almost nine years later.

"It would definitely mean more if we won this time around. I have a more mature head now and take in a lot more than when I was a young kid at the Dogs."

A sign of that maturation can be seen on Asotasi's Twitter profile. On it, he talks about the four things in life you can't get back - "the stone after the throw, the word after it's said, the action after it's done and the time after it has passed".

"I guess it's a deep and meaningful Roy Asotasi," he laughs.

Asotasi has thrown a few stones in his time, most notably in 2007 when, as Kiwis captain, he implored New Zealand Rugby League to sack Gary Kemble as coach. The Kiwis were trounced 58-0 by Australia and then overrun by Great Britain in a three-test series and Kemble was eventually replaced by Stephen Kearney after a messy divorce.

"I have no regrets about what I did," Asotasi says. "Look at where the Kiwis are now, world champions. David [Kidwell] and I felt we needed to say something or, if we didn't, New Zealand would keep going the way it did. Being from professional organisations, we knew what was expected. All we did was voice our opinions and obviously a lot of people heard it."

It was, in effect, Asotasi's last meaningful contribution to the Kiwis. He was knocked out early in the 2008 Anzac test and then missed the World Cup because of a torn pectoral muscle.

He returned for the 2009 Anzac test but didn't resume the captaincy, with Benji Marshall leading the side instead, and played the last of his 24 tests for the country of his birth.

Next month he will captain Samoa at the World Cup, when they will take on the Kiwis. They are a chance of causing an upset but Asotasi is circumspect. That revolution might still be some way off. APNZ

- NZ Herald

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