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After being told he was not good enough to play for the worst team in the National Rugby League (NRL) Jason Death never dreamt of facing his old rugby league mates at the New Zealand Warriors again.
The hooker, the Auckland Warriors' player-of-the-year in 1999, developed a cult following during three seasons in Auckland but it all gradually turned sour after he shifted to the resurrected South Sydney Rabbitohs last year.
Death was signed as the club's first choice dummy half but feared his 12-year NRL career was washed up when summoned to Paul Langmack's office in April.
Death, 31, was one of six players told by the new Rabbitohs coach they could forget first grade in 2003.
Being told he was not good enough to play for a team of strugglers was a chastening experience.
"It was pretty devastating to think my football career had ended like that. They offered me work in marketing at the club, some coaching or playing reserve grade for the rest of the year."
Death could have twiddled his thumbs at club headquarters but opted to knuckle down in the second-tier premier league.
"I gave myself the challenge to play reserve grade for the rest of the year because I didn't want my footy to end."
A string of solid performances finally convinced the new regime Death was worthy of a chance to regain his spot against Canberra in early May, although a concussion ensured his return was short-lived.
"I needed a week off and I wasn't considered again. I just worked harder at training and played good football in the premier league."
The Rabbitohs' revolving door policy in the halves eventually worked in Death's favour as hooker Shane Walker switched to halfback, allowing the 183-game veteran a shot against the Melbourne on June 8.
Souths stormed to a sensational 41-14 victory and Death retained his place against St George Illawarra last week.
"I've forced my way back in and the goal now is to cement a spot," said Death, one of several players off contract at season's end.
He has no firm plans for 2004.
"I want to talk to Souths first but you don't know what they're thinking. At one stage they were telling me they didn't want me at the club anymore now I'm playing regularly."