Blake Taaffe will bank on more experience in South Sydney’s spine and a title-winning combination from his past to be better prepared as Latrell Mitchell’s fill-in than he was in last year’s run to the NRL grand final.
Mitchell was due for scans on his troublesome left hamstring on Sunday, as the Rabbitohs hope his time on the NRL sidelines will be minimal.
But for however long he is out, they will place their faith in Taaffe.
Taaffe’s year has been equally as frustrating as Mitchell, with his chance to start the season in Souths’ No.1 jersey ruined by an ankle injury on the eve of round one.
The 22-year-old’s return from that came at the perfect time on Saturday night against St George Illawarra, used off the bench when Mitchell walked off the field after just 14 minutes.
Taaffe’s availability is part of the reason coach Jason Demetriou believes the Rabbitohs are better placed than most clubs to survive without their first-choice fullback.
He essentially came in cold at the end of last season when Mitchell was suspended, having only played fullback at first-grade level twice previous.
After end-of-year surgery, Taaffe managed close to eight weeks training at fullback and working with the Rabbitohs’ spine in the pre-season with Mitchell running his own program due to his ban.
Taaffe also spent the past week slotting in at fullback in training runs with Mitchell battling a knee injury, leaving him well placed to slot in.
“Last year caught me off guard a bit,” Taaffe said.
“I think knowing the standard I have to play week in week out (will help a lot). Just my effort areas around the ball.
“If that’s my job for the next four weeks I am going to knuckle down and do the best I can.”
South Sydney have games against Canterbury, Wests Tigers, Manly and Brisbane in the next month and would be favoured to win most, even without Mitchell.
Taaffe also believes his combination with No.7 Lachlan Ilias will help.
The pair played in the halves together in the Jersey Flegg in 2019, claiming Souths’ last piece of silverware with a grand final win.
“I played 20s with Lachy so we have combinations and are good playing with each other so I throw off him,” Taaffe said.
“And just playing with Cody (Walker), Cooky (Damien Cook) and Cam (Murray) last year helps as well, just with effort areas around the ball and doing the best I can.
“They make my job a lot easier, I just flow off their energy.”