With trial matches and the 2015 Telstra Premiership fast approaching, it’s time to start asking the big positional questions.
Over the coming weeks, Rabbitohs.com.au will take you through all the contenders for every jumper in the red and green’s starting 13. Every number is up for grabs, and those looking to fill the spots are as hungry as ever. Today, it’s all about the number one jersey – the fullbacks.
Rabbitohs Head Coach, Michael Maguire, will have only two full-format games to get his on-field formula right before the February 22nd World Club Challenge clash against St Helens in the UK. After that, the 2015 season will again be upon us when the Rabbitohs take on the Broncos on March 5 in Brisbane.
But before then, a select few of Maguire’s men will blow out the cobwebs in the Auckland Nines tournament – the 13 a side hostilities resuming on Saturday February 7 in the Charity Shield against St George Illawarra, followed by a Return to Redfern clash with State Champions the Northern Pride.
Maguire is in no doubt about the importance of this year’s trial period.
“I need to really look at the dynamics of our team and a number of players coming in,” said Maguire.
“It’s an opportunity for a lot of players – we’ve had a few leave but it opens up some great doors for a number of players.”
The Rabbitohs’ fullback spot has been filled with many a great name during the history of the Club, most notably rugby league’s number one player – Clive Churchill. Since The Little Master hung up his boots for the final time over half a century ago, the role of the fullback has evolved, and so too have the men who have laid claim to the position. Here are the men vying for the jersey.
The man famous for his post-try ‘goanna’ celebration has proven time and time again why he is one of the game’s top players – look no further than his round 8, 2014 try against the Broncos. Inglis was once known as the world’s best centre, but his shift to fullback at the beginning of the 2012 season signalled the beginning of a new era for the 28 year old international.
In 24 NRL matches last season, Inglis ran for an impressive 3995 metres out of 343 runs. He also broke a staggering 104 tackles (most in the team) and broke the line 18 times. The Queenslander scored 13 tries for a total of 52 points, assisted in 16 tries and made five try-saving tackles from the back on his way to a Premiership ring with the Rabbitohs. He is justifiably the Rabbitohs’ number one contender for the number one jersey.
From NYC player, to first grader, to Premiership winner, to Kangaroo squad member – all in the space of a rugby league season. In just 18 appearances, Alex Johnston became the Clubs’ top try-scorer with 21 to his name (eight more than any other Rabbitoh) for a personal first season haul of 84 points including a Grand Final try. But while Johnston may have found his niche on the wing, the young-gun is a top contender to wear the number one jersey when Greg Inglis is unavailable.
The South Sydney Junior averaged 104.4 metres per match with the ball in hand in his debut season, made 35 tackle breaks, 21 line breaks, six offloads and two try-assists – justifiably being named the 2014 John Sattler Rookie of the Year at the Red and Green Ball.
Few players in the NRL are blessed with the explosive speed and agility of Dylan Walker. Throw in a rock solid defensive game as well, and the Souths Junior is a vital cog in the Rabbitohs line-up, as much for those traits as for his versatility.
Able to cover virtually any position in the back-line, Walker began the 2014 season at five-eighth before finding his place in the centres. But when times were tough, the Mascot product deputised for Inglis at fullback – most effectively in the sides gritty round 13 victory over the Warriors in Perth where faced with a massive injury toll, Walker managed to bag two tries. His 2014 season prompted Kangaroos Coach, Tim Sheens to select the Rabbitoh in the Australian centres – the young-gun now boasting four Tests to his name.
Walker ran for 2872 metres from 279 carries, breaking the line on 14 occasions, scoring 12 tries and breaking a massive 83 tackles on his way to a possible green and gold jumper.
Setefano Taukafa joins the Rabbitohs in 2015 after a number of seasons in the Wests Tigers' system, including an outstanding 2011 season in the club’s NYC side. The Tongan then embarked on a two-year Mormon Mission before returning to Wests and playing NSW Cup in 2014.
A strong carrier of the ball, and also blessed with a fantastic ability to leap and contest for the pill in the air, Taukafa will be pushing for his first grade debut in 2015.