Walker, Johnston Star For Revamped Rabbitohs
This article first appeared on NRL.com.
It's only been one game but the early signs are that the loss of superstar fullback Greg Inglis won't be the crushing blow to the Rabbitoh's 2017 Telstra Premiership hopes that fans first feared.
After blowing Manly away late in a runaway 38-18 win at Lottoland on Saturday afternoon, the two best pieces of news for Souths fans were the reinvigorated forward pack – which seemed to benefit from the return of George Burgess – and the immediate spark generated between fullback Alex Johnston, five-eighth Cody Walker, halfback Adam Reynolds and dummy-half pair Robbie Farah and Damien Cook.
Johnston scored two tries and set up one while running 115 metres in an error-free afternoon, Reynolds set up a try and kicked beautifully, Farah scored one try (and almost had a second) and set up two. Cook added a ton of spark, darting for 73 metres, offloading three times and creating a line break.
Walker though was without doubt the best of the lot and turned the match after the Rabbitohs fell behind early. Three line breaks, two line break assists, two try assists and a try amount to a fair reflection of his game-breaking afternoon.
"I thought Cody was our best player today," Reynolds said after the game.
"He's been one of our best players last year, he's come onto the scene and hasn't taken a backward step and continued to learn and grow. It's a credit to him, he's got a young family and he lives his lifestyle better than everyone else that I know, he's a real family man and when he comes to football he's a real footballer.
"He takes pride about whatever he does. It's taken him a while to get into first grade but he's not missing a beat now, he's taken his opportunity with both hands."
The form of Johnston – whose preferred position is fullback – was pleasing for both Reynolds and coach Michael Maguire.
"Obviously Greggy (Inglis) the big fella's not there and I thought 'AJ' did a good job today," Reynolds said.
"He's pretty familiar with that role anyway, he's been training there all pre-season and all the boys have got faith in him. He's a talent, he's a young kid and his will to learn is second to none.
"Me and Cody and Robbie's job is to take a bit of pressure off him. He's a key member of our team and the more ball we get him in open space the better for him. He's got a lot of speed to burn and his choices with the ball are excellent as well."
Maguire said he was pleased to see Johnston show the form he did.
"He's definitely got that in him and now it's just building on that," Maguire said.
"He's always wanted to have a crack at fullback. He's a South Sydney kid that's come through all the grades and it's great to see him excelling like he did [on Saturday] and he's just got to keep going."
Unlike last week when the loss of two outside backs to injury threw the bench rotation out, Saturday's game gave a better indication of how Farah and Cook may combine as the season goes on. Cook replaced Farah after 35 minutes and played out the game. Farah returned after 65 minutes and both were on the field for the final 15 minutes.
Maguire believed Farah and Cook combined intelligently.
"Our two dummy halves in Damien Cook and Robbie Farah, I thought they played a really smart game and when you've got Cookie out there with Robbie, those combinations, we've just got to keep growing them," Maguire said.
"We played around with both, whether Robbie plays lock or Damien plays hooker, we do play around with that at training. Obviously with Cookie, his speed through the middle, they can double team out of dummy half so we've got opportunities like that through the middle."