Taaffe to see No.1 opportunity knock
WAYNE Bennett is ready to roll the dice and back South Sydney young gun Blake Taaffe to stand up to an anticipated Nathan Cleary bombing onslaught in Saturday’s blockbuster NRL final against Penrith.
While Bennett is yet to make the final call on who will wear the No.1 jumper in Latrell Mitchell’s absence, the master coach is leaning towards giving Taaffe another crack despite his somewhat nervous performance in the final round win over St George Illawarra.
By no means was Taaffe, 22, poor against the Dragons and he’s certainly seen as a player with huge potential.
But there were a few worrying signs that the lack of football he has played in recent times makes it a gamble throwing him in against the might of the Panthers and in particular Cleary’s phenomenal kicking game in such a high-stakes match.
Bennett does have other options he was weighing up on Sunday such as moving Cody Walker and starting Benji Marshall at five-eighth.
Alex Johnston is also a capable fullback but Bennett is reluctant to shift him from the left wing where he’s scored 27 tries so far this season.
Bennett is also extremely cautious about tampering with the halves partnership of Walker and Adam Reynolds.
Benji’s experience and class was on show in the win over the Dragons where he produced a standout performance to guide the young Rabbitohs to victory in the absence of so many senior players.
But the reluctance to weaken a strength points to Taaffe getting the call-up when the team is named on Tuesday.
Internally, another factor in Taaffe’s favour is that the 22-year-old is an extremely popular member among the squad.
Bennett believes that could inspire them all to lift to try and help the youngster handle what is arguably the toughest challenge for any fullback in this game, defusing Cleary’s towering kicks.
Cleary had a field day in his most recent clash against the Rabbitohs when poor Josh Mansour had a horror night.
Cleary would have no doubt seen Taaffe drop one cold against the Dragons which was a kick that didn’t come from the same stratosphere as the rainmakers Cleary puts up.
Taaffe also got pushed off in an attempted tackle on Mikaele Ravalawa while some of his wayward shots at goal looked to be burdened by nerves.
But Bennett put a lot of it down to the lack of football he’s played over the last two years, and he’s confident the youngster will be much better for the run.
Any way you look at it, the Rabbitohs are going to be worse off not having Latrell, that is just the reality no one can ignore.