After a blistering start and the opening four-pointer of the match against the Dragons, Latrell Mitchell found himself heading up the Rabbitohs tunnel less than 10 minutes later suffering an apparent leg injury that ended his night. The impact of losing the star fullback was evident, with the next points for the Rabbitohs coming with just 6 minutes remaining in the first half, but also telling was the South Sydney side’s ability to withstand such a significant omission relatively in stride.
Blake Taafe made his season debut after suffering an injury of his own the last time the Rabbitohs faced the Dragons in the 2022 Charity Shield - and slipped straight back into the role that he played so effectively last season, running for over 100 meters and bagging a line break assist, a try assist along with 8 points from his boot.
Jason Demetriou knew the value of having such a handy replacement in the custodian role and praised the young fullback's ability to slot straight back into the backline.
"I thought it was a pretty special performance from Blake for a kid who comes back in still under 10 NRL games and hasn’t trained or played with the team for 4 weeks, to come in and play for 65 or 70 minutes was a big effort from him, and its good having him there that’s for sure.”
Match: Rabbitohs v Dragons
Round 5 -
Venue: Accor Stadium, Sydney
Damien Cook was another who stepped into the breach with a number of blistering runs out of acting half getting the Rabbitohs on the front foot. Cookie had 6 runs for over 100 meters along with a line break to create the opportunity for Mitchell to open the scoring, capitalising on a solid platform laid by the engine room in the middle, with Thomas Burgess, Keaon Koloamatangi and Jacob Host all cracking the 100 meter mark.
The Rabbitohs have been renowned for their lethal left for a number of seasons, but tonight the points came on the right side, with both Keaon Koloamatangi and Campbell Graham crossing the stripe, and Cody Walker probing constantly on that side of the paddock.
Many of the top performers on the night were Rabbitohs youngsters, with halfback Lachlan Illias putting in another solid performance steering his side around the park, joining Blake Taafe, Campbell Graham and Daavy Moale all Rabbitohs under 22 years of age making significant contributions to the victory. Moale made his most significant contribution to a match to date in his short NRL career running for 74 meters from 8 carries, with 33 hard fought meters coming after contact.
Demetriou praised the young half's field vision in particular as he learns with every minute on the field.
"(He's) growing again, just keeps getting better. I was really happy with his try assist at the end because I think it showed some maturity. We had a shot at them a set before that and Birdy (Jack Bird) guessed on the lead and shut Cody down pretty well. He (Illias) obviously banked that, went to the line and hit Taane short. That’s a good sign for a young half that he is seeing the game as clearly as he is.”
Cam Murray put in what is becoming a customary captain's knock forcing some key turnovers from the Dragons with his late-dipping defensive style, ensuring that the Dragons never really gained any momentum. Murray is the man that the Rabbitohs look to for a play when they need it, and made a number of those plays tonight that, while they don’t show on the stats sheet, significantly impact the outcome.
Jason Demetriou will be looking for continued improvement from his side in the coming weeks, especially in terms of completion rates, which at 71% was an improvement on the season average but still well short of the expectations of a premiership contender. That being said, a side’s ability to win in the face of adversity is a hallmark of a quality team and the Rabbitohs showed that trait tonight.