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Murray’s Wallabies message for Eddie, Locky backs Walsh for Origin debut, Ipswich jets into expansion mix

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Joseph Suaalii’s imminent rugby riches have done nothing to tempt Cameron Murray, who is remaining firm in his commitment to South Sydney – at least for the time being.

New Wallabies coach Eddie Jones proved he meant business late last month by signing Sydney Roosters centre Suaalii to a three-year deal worth an estimated $1.6 million a year from 2025.

Suaalii’s new deal has only intensified speculation as to which NRL player could be next to take the leap and Jones has repeatedly identified Murray, a former captain of Newington College’s First XV, as high on his wishlist.

Murray is contracted with the Rabbitohs until 2025 but has previously said he would be open to switching back to rugby.

Suaalii’s deal is more lucrative than any in the NRL to date but no amount of money in the world will entice Murray into leaving Souths while unfinished business remains.

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

“Money’s never been a massive motivator for me,” Murray said. “My answer to that question (about switching codes) has always been the same and it’s been that I wouldn’t say no.

“But if I go, and that’s a big if, it’ll be much later on in my career.

“The motivator for me is what I’ve always envisioned myself doing in my career and I’ve ticked a lot of boxes off so far.

“All I’ve wanted to do was play for Souths and be successful here at the club and strive to win a premiership.

“I’m really hungry to do something like that and I think we’ve got a great opportunity.”

The first step on the road to premiership glory will be ironing out the creases from last week’s 18-10 loss to Melbourne.

The Rabbitohs were sluggish in defence and could not break the Storm down in attack, despite repeated chances inside the red zone.

At a loss to explain their lack of intensity post-match, Murray insisted on Tuesday the Rabbitohs now knew where they had gone wrong.

Cameron Murray. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for RLWC)

“We’re dipping in our toes a little bit in the first 10 or 15 minutes and not starting with the intensity and frontloading with the intensity that we need,” he said.

“There are a lot of simple errors for us. And I guess just general effort area stuff like kick pressure, kick chase and stuff like that.

“It’s all simple fixes and much easier said than done. But like I said, we’re pretty optimistic.”

The Rabbitohs lose Alex Johnston for the clash with Canterbury on Friday after the veteran winger was concussed against Melbourne.

Headlining the replacement options is Taane Milne, who hasn’t played since hitting Penrith’s Spencer Leniu high in the 2022 preliminary final and earning a six-match suspension.

Lockyer thinks Walsh ready for Origin

Queensland selector Darren Lockyer says Brisbane fullback Reece Walsh has taken his game to new heights and is ready to make his Maroons debut in this year’s State of Origin series.

The former Maroons captain played No.1 for Queensland in six series before transitioning to No.6 and has been impressed with how 20-year-old Walsh has developed his game in the opening month for Brisbane, particularly in defence.

Newcastle playmaker and Queensland’s incumbent fullback Kalyn Ponga is in doubt due to concussion issues that have led to him taking a short break from the game, and Walsh has sizzled for the Broncos in their undefeated start to the season.

“I don’t think the occasion would worry him,” Lockyer said of Walsh’s Origin credentials. “It was only a couple of years ago that he was in the (Queensland) team and had to pull out because of injury. He got a taste for what that environment is like even though he didn’t take the field.

“There’s a long way to go between now and the first Origin but he is playing in a team that’s winning and he is doing well himself.”

Lockyer said Walsh needed to “keep playing with discipline and minimising his errors” to impress coach Billy Slater, who was one of Queensland’s great fullbacks himself.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 18: Reece Walsh of the Broncos celebrates scoring a try during the round three NRL match between Brisbane Broncos and St George Illawarra Dragons at Suncorp Stadium on March 18, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Reece Walsh celebrates scoring a try. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

“He is going to attack with flair but I’d think that what he is doing defensively is the more important thing for a coach like Billy,” Lockyer said.

“It is just about knowing that when you go into those big games that your complete game is in order.”

Walsh is far from the finished product but Lockyer said he had fine-tuned his defensive and positional play under former Maroons and Broncos fullback Darius Boyd at Brisbane training sessions.

“He brings a bit of X-factor. We’ve always known he is talented and I think having Darius Boyd teaching him about the defensive aspect of fullback, putting himself in the right position and communication is really going to enhance his game,” Lockyer said.

“Defence has been the constant theme at the Broncos. Kevvie (Walters) said in the pre-season that he wanted Reece to be better with his defence and he has obviously worked on that and is putting his body on the line.

“If he plays with discipline every week he is going to have a fantastic career. Defensive players are worried about him because of his speed. He puts a lot of indecision between the third defenders in and the centres and wingers. They just can’t handle his speed.”

Former Maroons fullback Gary Belcher endorsed Lockyer’s assessment.

“Reece is getting more mature and I can’t see why he wouldn’t be as dangerous in Origin. It is great to have that pure speed,” Belcher told AAP. “Origin can be a daunting stage but he plays with no fear. He has come to a big club in his home town of Brisbane and is not overawed by anything.”

Commissioner puts Ipswich in expansion frame

ARL commissioner Kate Jones says rugby league heartland in the Ipswich corridor west of Brisbane won’t be forsaken when the NRL expands, as two bid team heavyweights call for another team to be added in southeast Queensland.

Jones, speaking at the launch of Magic Round, reiterated ARL chairman Peter V’landys’ determination to expand the game to 20 teams with a Pasifika side right in the frame to be added when an 18th club is included inside the next four years.

Brisbane Firehawks consultant Shane Richardson told AAP that “one of the three teams for expansion has got to be in southeast Queensland”.

“In Brisbane you’ve got two teams in an area where Sydney has six with the same population. The whole corridor between Logan City and Toowoomba has massive growth and we are just giving it up to the AFL,” he said.

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“It is the old David Gallop saying of ‘you’ve got to fish where the fish are’ and there are a lot more fish in southeast Queensland than there are in Western Australia or the south island of New Zealand.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 11: Jeremy Marshall-King and Felise Kaufusi of the Dolphins runs onto the field during the round two NRL match between the Dolphins and the Canberra Raiders at Kayo Stadium on March 11, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Felise Kaufusi runs onto the field for the Dolphins. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

“The Pasifika concept is a great idea but it is a long-term project.”

Brisbane Jets chairman Steve Johnson said “the western corridor of Brisbane is the home of rugby league”.

“The Dolphins v Broncos sellout shows the rugby league supporters are here. Brisbane is big enough and our financial resources are vast enough for three teams,” he told AAP.

“The Broncos, Dolphins and a team in the western corridor are not in competition and they are all big enough to grow their own fan base. They are bolted-on rugby league fans and Magic Round proves Brisbane is the home of the game.”

The Firehawks and Jets missed out to the Dolphins when the competition expanded to 17 teams and both had plans for the western corridor of Brisbane as part of their bids.

“I have a lot of empathy for the fact that rugby league has an Ipswich connection and that area is our heartland,” Jones said.

“We have to always make sure we keep our heartland in our decision making. We won’t rush decisions. We are ambitious, but we will make sure we do this sustainably and we do it in consultations with the clubs.

“We are going to look at all options, but as I have said in the past and as the chairman (V’landys) reiterated today, Pasifika is very strongly in our mind.

“The Federal Government is very keen to see that expansion and want to put their money where their mouth is. We also have 50 per cent of our players from Pacific nations, so that’s a great talent base.”

Jones said there was “no reason why in the future we can’t have 20 teams”.

“Our goal is to be a truly national competition and that means expansion,” she said.

“It won’t be at the expense of existing teams. We want to grow sustainably, so it will take time, but we are investing in the pathways to create the talent to keep our game strong.

“I think Peter said 2027 (for the 18th team to be added). He will be restlessly devoted to growing the game.”

Papi pep talks inspire Pezet

Ryan Papenhuyzen’s long journey to injury recovery has helped inspire Melbourne rookie Jonah Pezet on his impressive start to life as an NRL player.

And Pezet is backing his housemate to return to his brilliant best once the 24-year-old finally shakes off his knee injury.

Tipped as a star of the future, 20-year-old Pezet found himself thrust into the first grade earlier than anticipated when Cam Munster and Jahrome Hughes spent time on the sidelines in the opening month of the season.

Pezet let no one down, scoring a try on his NRL debut and finishing the three-game stint with two assists.

There has been more than one pinch-yourself moment for the young Pezet, who grew up a Storm fan.

“There are no better players to learn off than the people down here,” he told AAP.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Jonah Pezet of the Storm is tackled during the round four NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and Wests Tigers at AAMI Park on March 24, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Jonah Pezet is tackled. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

While Pezet has been soaking up the wisdom of Munster and Hughes on the park, he has also learned plenty from Papenhuyzen off it.

The fullback has not played since last July, when he began the long road to recovery after fracturing his right kneecap.

The injury blow came after Papenhuyzen had fought his way back from a serious concussion the season prior.

Papenhuyzen only began running again on grass last week – eight months after injuring his knee – and has spent time in the USA consulting with renowned specialist Bill Knowles.

He joined the Storm for team training on Monday in another sign his long-awaited return is approaching.

Living at such close quarters to Papenhuyzen has taught the young Pezet of the mental grit requisite for life in the NRL.

“He’s going through a tough time but he’s one of the most resilient blokes I know,” Pezet said. “He’s pretty strong, he knows what he has to do. The support the club’s given him as well, all 35 other players that we’ve got in our squad, we just rally around each other.

“It’s just about when he’s having the bad days, you don’t need to go at him about doing the dishes or anything like that.

“He’s one of the most positive blokes I know.

“Whenever he’s back, he’s going to be in flying form. He can’t wait to get back out there with us.”

Pezet is the first to acknowledge his time starting in the halves is over for the time being, given Hughes returns from suspension for the round-six clash with the Sydney Roosters.

After the win over South Sydney on Friday night, coach Craig Bellamy hinted there could be a position for Pezet as a bench utility covering Harry Grant at hooker.

Bellamy has long been a fan of carrying an extra rake in his 17 and Pezet played a similar role in the Queensland Cup last year.

“If they want me to do that, I’ll do my role,” Pezet said. “I want to play as much NRL footy as I can. That’s the dream and that’s the goal.”



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