South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett has raised concerns over the lack of match fitness on offer to fringe players as injuries continue to mount in the Telstra Premiership.
Bennett praised his side's effort in their 18-12 loss to the Raiders on Saturday night but expressed his disappointment over the game's care for players asked to step up when injuries hit given the cancellation of reserve grade in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Rabbitohs lost Alex Johnston to a head knock early in their six-point defeat with the club's latest debutant, Jack Johns, managing 54 minutes in his first game in any grade since March.
Asked about Johns' performance debut, which included a trip for a HIA, Bennett said he went "not too bad" before expanding on his overall concerns for player safety.
"One of the difficult things that's happening here is a lot of these players haven't played a game of football and we're putting them straight into first grade with nothing behind them at all – not match conditioned, nothing," Bennett said.
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"I had three of those out there tonight and one from last week. Corey Allan was remarkable to think what he did at fullback and he's had one game for us on the wing last week.
"It makes it even more challenging and difficult. All the clubs are facing the same problem, it’s not just us but it's a problem."
Asked if there was a solution, Bennett believed there was but said "no one has worked hard enough to get an outcome for it".
"We've all sat back and been passive about it and our club has been in the same boat so I'm not criticising anyone for it," Bennett said.
"The Apollo meeting some time ago I came up with a couple of suggestions there but no one ever seemed to be keen on them.
"We're paying the price for it but some are paying a bigger price than others because they have more players who have played so little football."
After a sub-par performance 65-minute effort against the Knights last week, Bennett said the side had improved after "killing themselves" in recent weeks with their completion rate.
"It wasn't as obvious we did [this week] but we played our hearts out," Bennett said.
"I was proud of them, just the adversity they played under losing a couple of players who couldn't come back.
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"A couple of Raiders tries had a bit of luck to them. We had to earn everything we got and I just thought we kept at it really good.
"The effort was there with good intent, a couple of times we were denied half a metre from the try line. I thought there were a lot of good things from us tonight and a little bit of bad luck.
"That's footy and that's how it goes."
The Rabbitohs will welcome back Latrell Mitchell next week for their clash against arch-rivals St George Illawarra at Kogarah.
"Unless he gets suspended for something over the weekend," Bennett quipped.