Sport Rugby League Joy for Luke as Rabbitohs rule in Auckland
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Joy for Luke as Rabbitohs rule in Auckland

Issac Luke leads the South Sydney celebrations.
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Issac Luke has won his second top-level trophy since experiencing the anguish of missing South Sydney’s historic 2014 premiership triumph through suspension.

Luke captained the Rabbitohs to the Auckland Nines title on Sunday, which they won after beating a gutsy Cronulla 18-14 in extra time in a gripping final. 

He has since raised Four Nations silverware with New Zealand, but the Kiwi hooker rated the Nines success in front of his countrymen a career highlight.

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“This is pretty special because I got the nod to captain in my home country in front of my family,” he said.

“There is no better feeling.”

Asked if it made up for missing out on the 2014 premiership, Issac said: “I left that back in October.

“I look back on how the boys pulled me through that day and use it as inspiration.”

Few clubs named strong squads for what cynics considered a “hit and giggle” Nines tournament due to a hectic pre-season and the horror injury toll at last year’s inaugural tournament.

But Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire took it seriously despite also having the World Club Challenge in the UK and pre-season trials on the horizon.

Dylan Walker of the Rabbitohs finds a gap during the Auckland Nines grand final against Cronula. Photo: Getty
Dylan Walker of the Rabbitohs finds a gap during the Auckland Nines grand final against Cronulla. Photo: Getty

And it paid off with no injuries registered on their way to collecting a $370,000 winner’s cheque.

“We always like to put a great team out there if they are available,” Maguire said.

“Greg Inglis was very keen to play, but the fact he came back from the Four Nations later we chose to rest him.”

Not that the reigning premiers had it all their own way against the 2014 wooden spooners in a dramatic final.

A no-name Cronulla side sensationally sent the match into extra-time when Valentine Holmes sunk a sideline drop goal conversion after setting up a Jack Bird try in the dying moments.

And at one stage the Sharks held on for 17 straight tackles in extra-time.

Even when the Rabbitohs’ Joel Reddy cracked their line for what looked like the match-winner he was called back for a forward pass.

Cronulla played so well that they looked set to finally exorcise the demons of the 2011 supplements saga by earning their first trophy since the 1979 AMCO Cup.

However, it was 34-year-old Matt King – who came out of retirement for tournament – who got the fairytale ending, crashing over for the match-winner 10 minutes into extra time.

“Matt hasn’t done a whole of training – I am not sure what he wanted to get out of this tournament to be honest,” Maguire laughed.

The Nines injury curse struck Cronulla, with Fa’amanu Brown requiring a knee reconstruction.

Semi-finalists Parramatta lost Ken Edwards (knee), Brad Takairangi (ankle) and Kaysa Pritchard (pectoral).

– AAP

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