The South Sydney Rabbitohs has named an unchanged side ahead of the Grand Final against the Penrith Panthers on Sunday.
Wayne Bennett has backed in Blake Taaffe once again to play fullback and unlike the first week of finals, there won’t be a week’s worth of speculation as to whether the veteran coach will pull a bait and switch at the last minute and put Alex Johnston in the position.
The Inner Sanctum has looked at the Rabbitoh’s squad for the 2021 NRL Grand Final.
1. Blake Taaffe: In week one of finals there were plenty of questions surrounding Taaffe and his ability to handle Nathan Cleary’s bombs, aside from one hiccup he managed and pulled through again in the preliminary final against Manly. The rookie has come into his own in finals brushing off any Latrell Mitchell comparisons proving he doesn’t need to emulate the suspended fullback to succeed in the South Sydney defence.
2. Alex Johnston: The NRL’s leading try scorer for 2021 and a key figure on South Sydney’s deadly left edge, Johnston will be looking to pile on tries after scoring two last week against Manly but has been unable to score against the Panthers this year and will be looking to break his scoring drought against them in the Grand Final.
3. Dane Gagai: Last time these two sides met Gagai busted through the Panthers’ tackles four times and had one line break to provide a try assist to Cody Walker. In the preliminary final, he had an equally effective game, not putting any points on the board but came up with another try assist with a kick that Walker managed to pick up in the chaos and score the first try of the match. Always a role player Gagai might not star on the left edge but will provide scoring opportunities to Walker and Johnston.
4. Campbell Graham: A quality finals player, Graham’s second-half try stopped the momentum Manly was building. He had a quieter week against Penrith in week one of finals but the Souths junior has developed a solid partnership with Jaxson Paulo on the right edge allowing the Rabbitohs to be less dependant on their left edge for scoring options.
5. Jaxson Paulo: Electric in offence during finals, Paulo has been the perfect replacement for Josh Mansour as the starting number five, scoring two tries against Manly last weekend and one against the Panthers three weeks ago. One of the lesser experienced players in the South Sydney defence he’s rarely shown any nerves and is always hunting scoring opportunities if the ball comes towards the right edge inside 20.
6. Cody Walker: Taking up a slightly different role last week, Walker took over the kicking game for the majority of the match against the Sea Eagles, if Reynolds is still having trouble with his groin issue expect Walker to take up the job once again. He’ll also be hunting scoring opportunities with Johnston and Gagai on the left-hand side and if he doesn’t get the ball down expect Walker to have a hand in South Sydney’s scoring plays.
7. Adam Reynolds: One of three Rabbitohs that played in the 2014 Grand Final, what Reynolds might not be able to bring from his kicks this week he will bring the experience and leadership that is needed to take home a premiership. In his final game in cardinal and myrtle Reynolds will be doing everything he can to make sure South Sydney finishes 2021 with a premiership ring.
8. Mark Nicholls: From midway through the season Nicholls became a regular starter as either a prop or a lock when Murray was out due to injury. Averaging over 10 hit ups a match, Nicholls has been a workhorse in 2021 and has developed other areas of his game rarely faltering in defence and providing a potential scoring option under the goalposts if he can break through a hole.
9. Damien Cook: The fastest hooker in the NRL, Cook’s running game will be crucial to South Sydney’s attack on Sunday. Defensively in this final series, Cook has made 40 and 38 tackles in each match, only missing a total of three tackles, if he’s allowed to unleash in the Grand Final he’ll be key to breaking through Penrith.
10. Tevita Tatola: Often an unsung hero amongst the Souths forwards Tatola has averaged 113 running metres in his 20 appearances this season, against Penrith three weeks ago he made four tackle breaks and had 56 post-contact metres. He won’t be considered a scoring option but Tatola will be key to getting outside of the defensive half in South Sydney’s sets.
11. Keaon Koloamatangi: In his second year at senior level Koloamatangi has finals experience and has gained representative experience joining the Blues camp during State of Origin this year. Kolomatangi didn’t have his best game in the preliminary final against Manly, missing three tackles in the match but in the four matches prior the 23-year-old had 100 per cent tackle efficiency. As always Koloamatangi will be used to run the ball often and when the second rower runs 100 plus metres in a match in 2021 Souths win.
12. Jaydn Su’A: The Grand Final will be Su’A’s final game as a Rabbitoh and the ever consistent forward will have little trouble filling his role and advancing the ball out of Souths back half. Don’t expect Su’A to play the full 80 minutes for a second week in a row but be prepared for him to play a part in setting up Souths early in their sets.
13. Cameron Murray: Another South Sydney junior, Murray has emerged as a leader in the Rabbitohs’ forward line. In recent weeks Murray has looked frightening with the ball in hand making five tackle breaks against the Sea Eagles in the Preliminary Final and against the Roosters in Round 24, nearly flawless last week if the 23-year-old can replicate a similar performance he could be a contender for the Clive Churchill Medal as a lock like Sam Burgess was in 2014.
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14. Benji Marshall: Guaranteed the number 14 jersey each week by Wayne Bennett when he joined the club prior to the 2021 season, Marshall brings 16 years of experience to the side and will be able to help settle Souths when he comes onto the field should things go awry by the time Bennett injects him into the game.
15. Jacob Host: excellent off the bench for South Sydney in his first year at the club Host has taken advantage of his limited minutes on the field to have his best season to date. When he does come on Host will be filling the shoes of Su’A and Koloamatangi and will need to provide a strong defensive performance when the Panthers attack through the middle.
16. Thomas Burgess: Seven years on and Thomas is now the last remaining Burgess in the South Sydney side, starting on the interchange once again. He’ll be looking to come on the field and be just as effective as he was in 2014 and it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Burgess to come up with a match-winning try like he did earlier this season against Wests Tigers.
17. Jai Arrow: Perhaps stiff not to get a start in the Grand Final over the younger less experienced players, Arrow will be the perfect injection into the South Sydney forward line when its in need of a fresh set of legs, he could play 40 plus minutes for the match and if he does expect him to play a hand in some big moments for the match.
18. Taane Milne: Only making 12 appearances for the year, Milne has managed to score eight tries and proved versatile on the wing and in the centre, should a player in either position go down during the week in training he’ll be a top choice to get brought into the side.
19. Patrick Mago: Expect Mago to be Souths 18th man again this week and in the event of disaster that he needs to be injected into the game he’ll be handy to have in stopping the Panthers attacking sets
20. Braidon Burns: Only making eight appearances for 2021, Burns was often put into the Dane Gagai role, he had his best performance in Round 25 when a majority of the senior players were rested running 219 metres but was unable to get on the scoreboard.
21. Jed Cartwright: Only playing in four games for the season Cartwright hasn’t quite gotten the opportunity to settle into a line up just yet and is unlikely to get the call up into the side for Grand Final day.
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