Warriors are no bunnies says Roy the rover

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 07/07/2013
Roy Asotasi
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ROY ASOTASI: I had to look for opportunities for myself and my family

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I had to look for opportunities for myself and my family Roy Asotasi --------------------

Roy Asotasi couldn't give "The Gladiator" the thumbs down when Russell Crowe pleaded with the then NRL prop of the year to move from the security of the Bulldogs to the battling South Sydney Rabbitohs.

But now seven years on the former Kiwis captain has fought the good fight, reinforcements have arrived, particularly from the north of England - and the 31-year-old is finishing his playing days in Super League.

Asotasi revealed last week he has signed a two-year deal with the Warrington Wolves - a career and climate change that enthuses the Auckland-born front-rower months after being unable to rule out retirement.

The 24-test Kiwi, who will lead Samoa at the world cup in the United Kingdom, Ireland and France in October, was off-contract at the end of the year. Extending his stay at Redfern was a possibility but Asotasi has opted for a more lucrative package offered by coach Tony Smith.

Rival NRL clubs were options but Asotasi could not envisage playing against South Sydney.

He may have cut his teeth as a first grader with the Bulldogs in 2002 - and won a Premiership two years later - but Asotasi's allegiance is firmly with the club that has not won the title since 1971.

He was recruited by Crowe and fellow Rabbitohs co-owner Peter Holmes a Court to address that deficiency and, although success has remained elusive during his 122-game stint, he is confident he will be heading to England on a high.

He believes Michael Maguire - the third Rabbitohs head coach he has played under - has succeeded where Jason Taylor and John Lang failed by finally melding talent with the temperament required to emerge victorious on Grand Final day.

"He's added a lot of steel to this side. Over the years there's always been talk of South Sydney having a great team on paper but we haven't been able to fulfil that potential.

"He's been the guy who's been able to unlock that."

South Sydney will remain at the top of the NRL, regardless of whether they beat the Warriors in Perth today, and on current form they seem capable of improving on last season's appearance in the preliminary final, where they were denied by Asotasi's former club.

That was the Rabbitohs' first post-season in five years, evidence Crowe's rebuilding campaign has been slow to reach fruition.

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"As much as you'd have loved this [season] to have happened three or four years ago, that's the way the game goes," Asotasi said.

Asotasi was the marquee buy when Crowe laid out the blueprint for the Rabbitohs' resurrection. He was joined by seasoned pros Dean Widders, David Kidwell and Nigel Vagana, who are now long retired.

"Fast-forward seven years and you've got GI [Greg Inglis], the [four] Burgess brothers, Adam Reynolds . . . John Sutton is playing the best football he's ever played."

So wasn't there a temptation to stay put after playing through the pain of under-achievement?

"I could have but, at the same time, I had to look for opportunities for myself and my family.

"I've been thinking about it for the last month or two and knowing I'm going to be leaving is the most saddening thing."

Warrington is not the most exotic destination but the Wolves are perennial Super League contenders and hold the Challenge Cup.

"They're one of the top three sides in the competition," said Asotasi, an accurate assessment, as they sit behind Wigan and Huddersfield.

Asotasi is viewed as a replacement for former England enforcer and Sydney Roosters favourite Adrian Morley, on the move to Salford next season.

Injured South Sydney centre/wing Matt King gave Asotasi positive vibes about his time at Warrington under Smith, a fellow Australian.

Part of the appeal is the UK's proximity to mainland Europe, with Asotasi reeling off potential off-season destinations for his wife Celeste, 1-year-old boy Xayden and his sibling, due in two months.

"If you get a break here, it's Brisbane or the Gold Coast.

"Over there you're going to Paris, Italy or Spain. It's only an hour away and only costs you $60."

Before he can start planning those excursions, he has embarked on the NRL's longest road trip to Western Australia for a "home" game against the Warriors.

Only three components of the standard four-prop rotation touched down from Auckland, with Russell Packer unavailable due to injury.

However, Asotasi is still facing a rugged forward battle alongside the likes of British bulldogs Sam and George Burgess.

"They've had five wins on the trot, they'll be riding high on confidence. It's a tough task for us," he said.

"They're a big side."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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