Proud Bunnies fan Fenech welcomes Ben Te'o to the club

MARIO Fenech is as passionate about the Rabbitohs and the club's proud history as any other one-eyed supporter.

That was why he was almost moved to tears when asked to present a jersey to new recruit Ben Te'o ahead of tonight's opener against fierce rivals the Roosters at Allianz Stadium.

Fenech said he saw that same passion when he looked the former Bronco in the eye when presenting him with the cardinal and myrtle strip.

"When I played the game, I knew how famous that bunny emblem was. I felt so fortunate to represent the club," he said.

"I understood the club's great traditions. That was why I got a bit emotional. Ben understood that, and he didn't take the occasion lightly."

Te'o, his teammates and Souths coach Michael Maguire won't take tonight's game lightly either, after the Roosters and Rabbitohs played two thrillers last year, splitting the results.

Ben Te'o
Ben Te'o Tony Martin

Fenech said he also saw many similarities between his coach in 1989, club great George Piggins, and today's South Sydney mentor, Michael Maguire

That 1989 team was tipped to win the competition, before bowing out in straight sets in the finals.

"We all wanted to play for George - he's such a great man, and he brought everyone close together," Fenech said.

"Maguire makes me want to put my boots back on and play. He's so encouraging and motivating - it's like he's everyone's father."

With tonight's match on the verge of being a sell-out, Fenech, known for his enthusiasm, said he could not contain his excitement.

"We used to be a park footy team, but look at what Russell Crowe has done for us - we've got 23,000 ticketed members now," he said.

"Initially, I didn't think the Roosters would be very competitive this year, but gee they bought well and they look like a very good team.

"These two teams have hated each other for 105 years - it's going be a dogfight."

Sonny Bill Williams of the Roosters watches the NRL trial match between the Sydney Roosters and the Wests Tigers at Allianz Stadium on February 23, 2013 in Sydney, Australia.
Sonny Bill Williams of the Roosters watches the NRL trial match between the Sydney Roosters and the Wests Tigers at Allianz Stadium on February 23, 2013 in Sydney, Australia. Matt King / Getty Images

Meanwhile for the Roosters, it will be Sonny Bill Williams' first game in 242 weeks - round 17 in 2008, to be precise, just before he walked out on rugby league.

But Roosters captain Anthony Minichiello said he believed the man known as SBW was ready to be thrown into the cauldron of tonight's grudge match.

Minichiello went as far as saying Williams could produce the special plays with which he is renowned for, right from the word go, with Roosters coach Trent Robinson expected to bring him on after 20 minutes.

"He's a freak of a player; he could come out and have a blinder straight away," Minichiello said.

"I'm looking forward to his offloads - he holds the ball like a tennis ball at times."

Fenech would not be drawn on a prediction for this year's premiership, agreeing it shaped as the closest competition on record.

 

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