Dane Gagai, one of Inglis’ best mates, told the Herald it was sad not playing with Inglis “altogether” let alone the one weekend in rugby league that celebrated all Indigenous cultures.
“Greggy had an outstanding career, he won grand finals, World Cups, Origin series, he’s been one of the greatest players the game has seen,” Gagai said. “The time comes for everyone and he knew it was the right time to finish.
“I’ve been playing a fair bit of golf with him. He’s going well the big fella, it’s a new role for him, but he still pops in here and there and gets down with the boys. That’s important for us as well that he knows nothing has changed there, and when he comes into the locker room he’s one of the boys. That’s how it will always be.
“As players, we get given everything – nutrition, weights programs, training schedules … We turn up, we work hard, we do our jobs. I wouldn’t know about the transition period [out of the game] because I’m not there, but I do know a lot of help goes into helping players with that transition so when the time comes it’s not a shock.”
Gagai said the Souths jerseys, designed by Cody Walker’s uncle, Joe Walker, would be one he definitely kept for himself after full-time. Gagai and Walker’s handprints are also on the shirt, along with Alex Johnston and Braidon Burns.
Because of the deep indigenous roots at the Redfern club, Souths players including Burns were sounded out by the NRL to become the unofficial faces of this weekend’s round. It’s understood Burns, the fresh-faced centre who became the new owner of Inglis’ No. 3 jersey, was flattered but opted to focus on overcoming his ankle – and now knee – injury.
Queensland representative Gagai knows Saturday night will also feature plenty of Origin debate about his NSW rivals, including halves hopefuls Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker. Damien Cook is certain to retain the Blues No. 9 jersey while Cameron Murray is in with a big shout for a bench spot.
Gagai featured in an Origin TV commercial a few weeks back with Cook, and enjoyed the chance to slap his teammate in the face – but he also knows his Maroons will find it even tougher trying to stop him this series.
“I probably only needed a few takes with that ad, but we took about 20, just so I could keep slapping him,” Gagai said. “He was outstanding last year, but he’s even better this year. He’s brought more to his game and is controlling the game a lot more. His running game was always a threat last year, but as we saw on the weekend [against Canberra] he put Cody Walker over for a try as he ran a great line, he’s put Sam Burgess over a couple of times. He’s becoming the whole package.”
Souths will be hunting their 10th win in 11 starts against former coach Michael Maguire, who has instilled some much-needed resilience to the Tigers.
Walker has been one of the competition’s best players, and if he was to be given the nod on Sunday night for his Blues debut, it could be as a utility.
Just as Cooper Cronk and Daly Cherry-Evans started their representative careers off the bench for Queensland, Walker’s speed and footwork would cause all sorts of damage against the tiring big men late in a game. Not only can he play in the halves, Walker has also filled in at fullback and can slot into dummy-half.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.