Cody Walker is back!
After leading South Sydney to an epic 20-16 defeat of St George Illawarra on Friday night, Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett declared that Walker had finally put the disappointment of his axing from the NSW Origin team behind him.
Walker scored a try, set up another for winger Dane Gagai, produced two line-break assists and ran for 124 metres to help Souths retain outright second position on the Telstra Premiership ladder.
It was his best performance for two months and afterwards Bennett spoke of the toll that being "rejected" after the Blues lost the Origin series opener had on the star five-eighth.
"I said to him during the week that he was coming back to his best," Bennett said. "As a coach you know your players better than anyone else and I could see it in the last couple of weeks.
"He was out of form when he came out of Origin and the disappointment that goes with all of that but I thought he handled it well and he was just getting better each week.
"I said to him after the game last week that's where you want to be, you're not making the line-breaks but you are about to. Tonight he came and got the rewards, he started to run the ball and he started to be Cody Walker again."
Match Highlights: Rabbitohs v Dragons
Bennett said it had required patience to help restore Walker's confidence and revealed that he had chosen him as captain in the absence of English forward Sam Burgess because he felt the challenge would be good for the 29-year-old playmaker.
"When someone rejects you, what are you feeling. You are not jumping through hoops and happy," Bennett said. "We all feel it when those moments happen but he knows his value to South Sydney and knows I value him. That's what matters most.
"I wasn't worried about it. I knew that's where he would be. I just had to make sure I didn't destroy any more of his confidence and do anything that made him feel like he wasn't valued.
"I have been happy to do that over the last month with him, I made him captain when a couple of other guys probably could have been. I thought he needed the challenge and that helped him."
The Rabbitohs didn't win a match for the six weeks of the Origin period as they fell from first place on the ladder to be six points behind Melbourne, and Bennett said the series had an impact on all players.
Match: Rabbitohs v Dragons
Round 19 -
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
- Nine Network
- LIVE PASS
Even hooker Damien Cook and lock Cameron Murray, who were part of the series-winning NSW team, had struggled in recent weeks but are now getting back to their best.
"Cam Murray trained yesterday and that was the best I have seen him train for nearly two months now," Bennett said. "He is getting his energy back with just one game per week.
"Damien Cook was the same, he was a lot quicker at training and quicker with his hands. Origin is another week behind him."
Bennett said fullback Alex Johnston was likely to be back in two weeks, while Burgess is scheduled to return in next Saturday night's clash with Cronulla at Pointsbet Stadium.