It has taken just 11 games of first grade to convince South Sydney legend Mario Fenech the rise of Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds is like winning the lottery.
The relatively unknown Kensington United junior has been largely shielded from the media, but is already making a big impact on the field with the Rabbitohs rocketing into the top four with six wins from their past seven starts, including winning their last four in-a-row.
While there have been many false dawns of South Sydney’s emergence as a genuine Rugby League powerhouse, Fenech believes Reynolds might just be the final piece to the Rabbitohs puzzle.
“He delivers on the game plan, we have a structured game plan and he is fanatical that it is delivered to the letter,” Fenech told NRL.com.
“When Sandow left I was very hurt and disappointed that we lost a player that we should have kept. But looking back, we have probably won a bit of a lottery here.”
When Sandow made his highly publicised move to Parramatta, there were concerns among Souths fans that they had no-one to fill the void. Cooper Cronk and Brett Finch were among the high-profile players linked to the famous club as possible recruits.
Reynolds was a rookie, unproven in first-grade and coming back from a serious knee injury. But the noises coming out of Redfern was that they had full confidence in his ability.
Reynolds has repaid the faith in droves, answering the critics in the best possible way, leading his team around the paddock like a seasoned professional.
“Can you imagine the pressure the kid was under?” Fenech asked NRL.com.
“I was concerned because there was no experience for him to lead us around and the number seven is a big piece of the puzzle, so I did have a few concerns.
“I’ve always liked him as a player on the basis that he is a very good defender and he is a great kicker of the ball. There was always a question mark on the knee, how bad it was, could he recover, [but] one thing he has got this kid, he is tough.
“He has played 11 first-games, that is it. He is a novice. But I admire his great qualities. He has the confidence to tell his forwards where to go. He is a leader and that is what you have to be if you are a halfback. I believe this kid is good enough, he is very disciplined. The kid has a bright future.”
Reynolds plays with a maturity that defies his age and experience. His ability to stick to a game plan and play structured football has been impressive.
Fenech believes his attention to detail and ability to follow team structure and plans has been the missing link for the Rabbitohs in recent years.
Fenech, who played 180 games with South Sydney between 1981-90, always used to argue that he wouldn’t trade Sandow for any other half in the competition, little did he know how well a local junior would perform at the top level once given his chance.
“He is a piece of the puzzle, we have grown this over a number of years,” he said.
“We have a wonderful pack of forwards, big and quick. We now have a good backline and a good halfback [that] can leverage that. He has a lot to work with.
“It comes down to the coach, in Michael Maguire we have a cutting edge, very good coach. [He] also relates really well to the younger demographic. From what I hear, the boys absolutely love him.
“Talking to Sam Burgess the other day, he said ‘we love the bloke and he is a bloke you want to play for.’”
South Sydney has been an enigma of the NRL Telstra Premiership in recent seasons. With high profile recruits Sam Burgess, Dave Taylor, Michael Crocker and more recently Greg Inglis, they are a team that has largely underperformed.
Fairly or unfairly, there has always been a perception that as a team, they weren’t mentally tough enough when it mattered. They could look like world-beaters one minute, and wooden spooners the next.
That perception is changing.
“You can’t compare us to last year,” Fenech argues.
“This year we are competing with the big guns. We have a structure that we implement. We have a kicking game, we have the mongrel up front and we have the strike-power with Inglis going back to fullback. We are ticking a lot of boxes.
“I’m really excited by our prospects in 2012 and I think we will get better too.
“There is an element of progress; they have played 11 games with this coach. I’m really excited about the next stage.
“The exciting thing about the Rabbitohs in 2012, they are a totally different football team. We have structure and I marvel at their defence. When the Rabbitohs are going well, Rugby League is going well; it would be good if they could win a comp.”
The Rabbitohs (4th) will take on the Bulldogs (5th) in a Saturday night blockbuster at ANZ Stadium.