MELBOURNE – The Warriors may wish they could fast forward Issac Luke’s arrival but the benched hooker remains a key part of South Sydney’s NRL title defence.
Luke was key to a Rabbitohs’ second half charge that almost pegged back a 14-point deficit in their 16-12 loss to Melbourne on Saturday night.
The New Zealand Test rake has been on the bench for the last two rounds, sparking rumours he’s on the outer at Redfern after signing a three-year deal to move to the Warriors next season.
The Warriors were no doubt wishing it was next week after their hooker Thomas Leuluai appeared to suffer a season-ending knee injury in their 17-13 win over Parramatta.
While Luke started on the pine, with Maguire preferring Cameron McInnes, he came on midway through the first half and took over at hooker for the rest of the match.
He made 20 tackles in a busy performance going head to head with Storm and Australian captain hooker Cameron Smith.
Maguire said he always intended for Luke to play the bulk of the match.
“Yes, pretty well,” Maguire said. “It depended how the game was going and that was how it played out.”
Maguire has insisted Luke isn’t out of favour and his impending departure has nothing to do with the decision to leave him out of the starting side, which was based on form.
The coach was happy with Luke’s contribution in the tight AAMI Park loss.
“He’s performing very well for us,” Maguire said.
“There’s areas that we all as a group will be looking at to continually improve on our game.
“Issac and I talk about his game all the time so he’s looking at areas where he can improve for himself.”
While their season record is a mediocre 5-5, Maguire felt the defending champions were tracking well, despite the loss being their 12th in succession in Melbourne.
“There were a lot of things to like about our game and we will learn a lot from it,” he said.
“We had opportunities that we didn’t take so we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”