The absence of Adam Reynolds through injury has exposed deficiencies in Luke Keary's long kicking game and contributed significantly to South Sydney's current three-game losing streak.
That's the opinion of former Dragons coach Nathan Brown in his column in Big League this week where he highlights that it is last year's grand finalists, South Sydney and Canterbury, who stand to benefit most from this week's Representative Round bye.
Since suffering a knee injury in the closing minutes of the Rabbitohs' controversial 18-17 win over the Bulldogs in Round 5, the Rabbitohs have suffered losses to the Cowboys, Sharks and Raiders, two of which they led comfortably at half-time.
Without their regular halfback to pilot the side around the park the Rabbitohs have showed an ability to close teams out, Brown pointing the finger at the long kicking game of Keary as a critical factor.
"When Adam Reynolds was ruled out for a couple of months, John Sutton would have been the natural selection as his replacement. However with both missing, their kicking game hasn’t been near as strong," Brown says in the Representative Round issue of Big League.
"His replacement, Luke Keary, is an outstanding young player but while his short kicking game is reasonable, his long kicking game still needs work. He’s been targeted on the last tackle by opposition teams, considering his halves partners – Glenn Stewart, Issac Luke, Cameron McInnes and Greg Inglis – have kicked just 12 times in the past three weeks between them.
"While points may be scored via kicks close to the line and by creating repeat sets, your long kicking game can have an impact on the outcome of the match.
"Reynolds was averaging 350 kicking metres per game before he was injured, and his ability to find space in the opposition’s half has a massive impact on opposition forwards who must turn around, meet their outside backs and work it out from their own end.
"Keary is now enduring more pressure at halfback due to the absence of Reynolds."
The injury to Reynolds in Round 5 not only had significant ramifications for the Rabbitohs but also the Bulldogs who have been forced to play on without their captain James Graham as he serves a four-week suspension as a result of his challenge on Reynolds.
Canterbury have suffered losses to the Dragons and Wests Tigers without the presence of Graham and Brown is adamant that lone incident has brought both team's premiership aspirations into question.
"While neither coach would want to admit it, that match has had a dire impact on both their seasons," Brown says. "When they met, Canterbury and South Sydney were both in the top four. They’ve won one match between them since.
"That same play – and the ensuing blow-up – meant Bulldogs pair James Graham and David Klemmer have spent the past month on the sidelines.
"For most sides losing two forwards wouldn’t be a big issue but for the Bulldogs, losing two ball-playing big men in Graham and Sam Kasiano resulted in the pressure mounting on the rest of the team.
"At most clubs the halves get their hands on the ball first and can decide what to do at the line. At Canterbury, the ball goes through their forwards first. This is why the loss of Graham and Kasiano has been so devastating, and it explains why Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds are finding themselves under the pump at the moment."
The Representative Round issue of Big League is on sale now from newsagents and at the ground. Digital version is also available on Zinio.