The South Sydney Rabbitohs have a chance to enter their first grand final since 2014 when they face the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles in a preliminary final on Friday night.
It’s a familiar feeling for South Sydney, playing in a preliminary final, but one that comes with some harrowing reminders too. Throughout the past three seasons, the team’s year has come undone in the preliminary final stage however, would be hoping for a change in fortune this weekend.
One member of the squad is first-year Rabbitoh Jai Arrow, whose six-year NRL career has never seen him progress to this stage of finals – until now.
Beginning his career at the Brisbane Broncos, Arrow was involved in the side’s 2016 and 2017 finals campaigns, although each season ended with a semi-final exit. After two years, he moved down the highway to the Gold Coast Titans for a three-year stint, one that ended without any finals appearances.
Reflecting on the chance to finally be afforded the opportunity to play in a game bigger than any he’s been a part of before, Arrow says he’ll enjoy the challenge, but will still be expected to perform his role as usual.
“Obviously it’s my first prelim so I’m pretty excited,” Arrow told media at a press conference on Tuesday.
“At the same time, [I’m] pretty relaxed and pretty cruisy, doing the normal things I do throughout the week. I just sorta want to be myself and relax and just enjoy the moment.”
Arrow’s first taste of life in cardinal and myrtle saw him starting on the bench in Round One, a position he’d be named to on the lineup for the first seven weeks of the season.
It wasn’t until Round Eight where he was elevated to the front row, only named on the bench three more times across the regular season, switching between lock, front row and back row.
Arrow explained that the move south to the Rabbitohs, with it, came a different gameplan he had to adapt to, and this in itself presented a changing workload with the roles he was tasked with during the year.
“Obviously me coming off the bench at the start of the year and then I was on the edge there for a bit, starting, my role sorta did change but I’ve loved every minute of it,” he enforced.
“I came here for a reason and that was to play in the big games and I get my opportunity this week to play in probably the biggest game in my life in a prelim final to hopefully go that one step further.
“It’s definitely been an enjoyable ride for myself this year and I’ve loved every moment and hopefully it doesn’t stop here.
“I don’t want it to stop here so I’ll be doing everything that I can [to ensure] that the season doesn’t stop this week cause I’d be pretty filthy if it does.”
Only 26 years old, Arrow has been privy to leaning on some older heads to help teach him key areas of the game and where he can improve, most notably 19-year veteran Benji Marshall and Rabbitohs head coach Wayne Bennett.
“[Benji’s] obviously got a lot of experience under his belt so he’s cool, calm, collected. It’s handy to have a bloke like him around just to keep everyone sorta intact and just telling us to enjoy it,” Arrow says.
“[Wayne] likes to thrive on this time of year, he loves the big games and he always seems to know what to say and be able to get everyone up in the big games.
“Obviously as a player, you want to play in these games and when you’ve got the super coach behind you in Wayne Bennett, it makes it easier and sorta pretty relaxing and pretty exciting.”
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The buildup to this week has been like nothing else for Arrow, a little nerve-wracking but he remains comforted by a club whose players and staffing fraternity recognise the enormity of the battle ahead.
“I think that’s a good thing for me, being nervous throughout the sorta time from when we get to the field and in the sheds,” Arrow said.
“I like to sorta have that nervous energy, that, I think, gets me up more for the game and then obviously Wayne will say his speech and no doubt have me firing and ready to go before the game.”
Arrow detailed how the intensity of the first week’s qualifying final win against the Penrith Panthers will be carrying into this weekend, more determined than ever that this preliminary final won’t be signifying an end to the Rabbitoh’s year.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d be taking it personal from here on in, winner takes all really,” Arrow said.
“My job is to go out there and bring a little bit of fire, bring a little bit of energy and enjoy the challenge as well.
“I continue to hopefully do that but from here on in, I’ll be sorta, y’know, taking it pretty personal between everyone out there on the field.”
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