Issac Luke champing at bit for full 80 minutes
After spending more than two months as a frustrated spectator it was hardly surprising that Issac Luke paced the sideline at ANZ Stadium on Monday night instead of heading straight to the interchange bench after he was subbed.
After all, the South Sydney and Kiwis hooker is notoriously reluctant to be taken from the field unless absolutely necessary.
That scenario unfolded during round three in March against the Wests Tigers when one of the NRL's leading dummy half runners suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery and a lengthy lay-off.
The 27-year-old, who recently extended his stay at Redfern to the end of 2017, made an earlier than anticipated comeback against St George Illawarra, and although South Sydney won to improve to fourth position the outcome wasn't exactly ideal for the Hawera-born playmaker.
Accustomed to playing 80 minutes, Luke was replaced by Apisai Koroisau late in the opening half before returning with 17 minutes to play to help close out a 29-10 victory.
"I sort of gave Madge (Maguire) a look when he took me off. At the moment I guess that's the right thing, putting me in the rotation," said Luke, without sounding particularly convincing.
"It was sweet. It's a process I have to go through before I can push out the minutes."
Although he had an ice pack on his left shoulder after the game, Luke reported no ill-effects and also had no issues with making his comeback without a run in reserve grade.
"I was happy to be thrown in the deep end, I pulled up pretty well," he said, looking forward to Saturday's round 13 clash with the New Zealand Warriors in Perth.
Statistically, Luke made a smooth return after missing eight rounds of the competition.
He made five snipes for 59 metres, broke two tackles and received the ball 84 times during 51 minutes of game time.
Those numbers helped ease the discomfort of spending so long on the injured list, while the development of his replacements Koroisau and Cameron McInnes also eased the pain.
"I've been really, really happy with them. They've really stood up," said Luke, who often monitored their progress with Maguire on game day.
"I got to spend a bit of time in the (coaches) box with Madge. I saw things from there I could pass on to young Api and Cam," he said.
The 150-game veteran also mentored the duo during his rehabilitation, safe in the knowledge he would return to the starting line-up as soon as he was granted medical clearance.
Luke made his debut for the Rabbitohs in 2007 and has fended off every challenger to his position, most recently Koroisau, who this week announced he would be joining Penrith in 2015.
The Fijian international exits Redfern after Nathan Peats and Beau Falloon departed for Parramatta and the Gold Coast Titans respectively, in search of more game time.
"I feel bad. Peats is a great player and Beau is doing good on the Gold Coast," Luke said.
"I've been proud of how Api has been going. It's a loss for us but he wants to go somewhere where he's going to get a lot of minutes."
That said, the master and apprentice will still share the workload against the Warriors at NIB Stadium and Koroisau's form could yet see Maguire employ a back-up hooker on the bench for the remainder of the season - a development Luke has at least had time to come to terms with.