Rabbitohs five-eighth Luke Keary says his side's growing injury toll won't be a factor this season because the well-drilled club has contingency plans after dealing with a similar injury crisis in their premiership-winning 2014 campaign.
Last week against Wests Tigers the Rabbitohs lost star centre Dylan Walker for a month due to a broken hand. The resilient 20-year-old Kangaroo finished out the game after suffering the injury very early on and starred with two tries in the tough win, and has been replaced by former Bulldog Daryl Millard to face the Eels at Pirtek on Friday.
A week earlier it was back-rower John Sutton, who finished out the game with a broken jaw and is now sidelined for around six weeks.
The club lost Kyle Turner in the pre-season to a back injury and 2014 premiership centre Kirisome Auva'a, also in the pre-season, to a disciplinary sanction.
Keary compared the current situation to last year, when he himself missed the first half the season after tearing a pectoral muscle at the Auckland Nines, while hooker Issac Luke missed more than two months with a shoulder injury, captain John Sutton missed the run into the finals with a knee injury and Walker, like this year, missed a month with a broken hand.
"If you think it's going to affect you it will, if you don't think it will affect you it won't affect you," Keary told NRL.com.
"You just move on – it's footy, people are going to get injured, you've got to move on and if you don't move on you find yourself behind the eight ball."
Keary said it was a strength of the club that they trained to prepare for injury scenarios and rarely seemed to miss a beat even when key players were unavailable.
"It's probably a credit to Madge [coach Michael Maguire] and the coaching staff getting everyone up to speed and knowing their jobs inside the team," he said.
The Rabbitohs faced an injury crisis of a different sort against the Roosters – halfback Adam Reynolds, now arguably the most important player in the side, going off for a concussion test.
Debate about whether he should have returned to the field notwithstanding, the Rabbitohs conceded three quick tries while he was off, turning a 12-0 lead into a 16-12 deficit in under 10 minutes.
But Keary pointed out it wasn't a lack of polish in attack during that time that was the problem, as South Sydney barely had the ball.
The Roosters scored at the end of the set in which Reynolds was injured – attacking the Rabbitohs' right edge where Reynolds usually defends, and again at the end of the following set when Joel Reddy failed to mark a swirling bomb. The Bunnies then had it for less than a set before Roosters centre Michael Jennings swooped on a dropped ball to claim the lead.
"It was a weird little period when Adam went off – we didn't actually have the ball when he was off," Keary said.
"They had the first try down the short side, then the kick, then we dropped it and Jennings ran off and scored, then Adam came back on so it was a tough period defensively. I think we learned a bit, we obviously had Adam off from the right [edge] and had a couple of big fellas over there defending. It would have been interesting if we'd had the ball [without him] but hopefully he doesn't go off too much!"
The reshuffle that day meant John Sutton went to five-eighth with Keary shifting to halfback, albeit very briefly, but even with Sutton out Keary said there were plans at the ready if Reynolds had to go off during a game.
"We've got a few blokes there, probably Issac could slot in there and Cam [McInnes] could slot in at hooker. We practice those kinds of situations in pre-season, everyone moves around a bit in case something happens in a game. I think we'll be fine if anything does happen."
One of the few teams with a lengthier injury list than the Rabbitohs is their opponents this Friday, Parramatta, who are without back-rower Ken Edwards (knee), centre Beau Champion (knee) and back-up hooker Kaysa Pritchard (pec) for the season, and each of winger Semi Radradra (knee), forward Pauli Pauli (knee) and prop Junior Paulo (suspension) until about Round 10.
"They've been really unlucky with injuries, especially for Beau Champion who was here [at the Rabbitohs] before, he's had a horror run. But we know what's going to come, we know they're going to be big, powerful and enthusiastic so we've got to be on our game," Keary said.
"At home they're going to come out firing, they had a couple of tough losses. I thought they were really good against the Bulldogs [in Round 2]. They played really tough footy.
"They've got a massive pack, probably bigger than ours thinking about it. It will be a good test for our boys."
Keary added he was looking forward to facing off against opposite number, in-form Eels pivot Corey Norman.
"He's going real good. He's always been a good player, he's started off the year really well, he looks fit and sharp – it will be good fun coming up against Corey."