Lebanon gesture that showed Cheika’s NRL credentials

Jasper Bruce |

Michael Cheika’s ability to motivate earned admiration with Lebanon at the World Cup.
Michael Cheika’s ability to motivate earned admiration with Lebanon at the World Cup.

If ever there was proof that Michael Cheika could inspire South Sydney back to their best, Jacob Kiraz says it came during a Lebanon team meeting at the last Rugby League World Cup.

Seven-time NRL premiership-winner Wayne Bennett has been tipped to return to the Rabbitohs from 2025 after the club sacked his former protege Jason Demetriou on Tuesday.

But ex-Wallabies coach Cheika has emerged as the dark horse in the race for the job, having been on the lookout for a new gig since quitting his role with the Argentina rugby union team in December.

Despite a glittering rugby union resume, five games guiding Lebanon in 2022 and a stint as an assistant at the Sydney Roosters represent the sum total of Cheika’s coaching experience in rugby league.

But Canterbury winger Kiraz, who played under Cheika at the World Cup, doesn’t think that should preclude him from the Souths job.

Kiraz
Bulldogs winger Jacob Kiraz sings Cheika’s praises after playing under him at the World Cup. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

“Cheik is honestly one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever been a part of,” the Lebanon international told AAP.

“The way he speaks to his players is something I’ve never come across. When he speaks to the players, he’s someone you want to play for.”

Kiraz said Cheika’s biggest skill was imbuing his players with a sense of purpose.

The winger recalled a team meeting during the 2022 World Cup, when the squad of mostly non-first grade players spent weeks away from home in England fighting a campaign against the odds.

The players came to a team meeting one day to find Cheika, juggling his duties with Argentina, had organised for members of each player’s family to send video messages wishing them luck.

The squad sat down and watched the videos one by one, with some players breaking down into tears at hearing from their loved ones.

“He knew how much we missed our families,” Kiraz said.

“Some of the boys, their grandparents were sick as well, and they were watching the videos. There were lots of tears.

“(Cheika) brings it back to the purpose and why you play football. Especially playing for Lebanon, that’s probably the most touching thing I’ve ever been a part of, playing for my country, where my grandparents are from, my heritage.

“It gees you up, it brings out your purpose and why you play the game, why you want to go out there.”

Lebanon’s World Cup campaign ended in the quarter-finals, when they ran into eventual champions Australia. But it wasn’t through lack of belief.

“We were versing Australia and he honestly made us believe we were going to go out there and beat them. He makes you believe, he gets the boys up,” Kiraz said.

And as Kiraz knows, few things are more important than belief for a football team going through as tough a stretch as Souths.

“We don’t want to see anyone go through that. We (the Bulldogs) have been a part of that and it’s not a good feeling,” he said.

“I know what (Cheika) can bring to a team. I know he would get the job done if he did go over there (to Souths).”

AAP