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Rookie at the back but Bunnies ready for Cleary's boot this time

South Sydney were dominant for 30 minutes and poor for 50 last time they met Penrith when the not-so-small matter of Nathan Cleary's kicking game caused all matter of problems.

The Rabbitohs recovered well from a huge 56-12 loss to Penrith earlier in the year and were on track to spring an upset in round 23 before losing their discipline and failing to handle Cleary's towering spiral bombs in falling to a 25-12 loss.

Senior Rabbitohs have backed rookie Blake Taaffe to handle that kicking game in Saturday night's qualifying final in Townsville but point out it's not just on the back three to contain Penrith's last-play kicks.

"We haven't been quite able to get the job done against this team but we're looking forward to the challenge," said five-eighth Cody Walker.

"We were near perfect for the first 30 minutes then errors, discipline came into play at the back end of the half and [we] let them back into the game. In the second half we pretty much defended the whole second half.

"When you let a guy like Nathan Cleary kick us to corners and put up those big bombs, they're hard to handle."

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Playmaker Benji Marshall acknowledged the threat of Cleary's boot but said the whole team needed to play a role in limiting what Penrith are able to do at the ends of their sets.

"He's a great kicker of the football, Nathan. He got us a few times last time," Marshall said.

"Obviously you need to try and change that. It's not just the back three that need to control that.

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"Kick pressure, you need guys trying to limit that by keeping them coming out of their half and everyone's got a job to do on last tackle.

"The last time we played them we did a lot of things wrong for 50 minutes but we did a lot of things right for 30."

Fullback Latrell Mitchell and winger Josh Mansour had plenty of trouble handling Cleary's towering spiral bombs in round 23 but both are gone for the season – Mansour through injury and Mitchell through suspension – with Taaffe handed the key No.1 jersey to start the finals campaign.

Taaffe's senior teammates had no concerns over his ability to step into the role and just asked him to play his own game, with Walker noting the club had experience going into a finals campaign without Mitchell, who tore his hamstring late last season.

"Last year made it to a prelim without him and guys were writing us off left right and centre," Walker said.

"I know we can do it without him. A guy like Blake Taaffe has come into the group and we don't expect him to be Latrell Mitchell, because you don't replace a guy like Latrell as easy.

"We just want Blake Taaffe to be Blake Taaffe, bringing his strengths and play the way that we know we've seen over the last couple of years in training. He is quite an exciting talent.

"He's quite dangerous, young Taaffe, he's light on his feet and he's really quick. We trust him to do a job there if Wayne picks him there."

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Taaffe also had no concerns about filling in the role despite the high-pressure nature of finals football.

"I've been playing fullback my whole life; if [Cleary] kicks bombs, which I'm sure he will, then I'm ready for the challenge," Taaffe said.

"I know I'm not the size of Latrell. I don't plan on being the size of Latrell! I've just got to go out and play my strengths and just put in all my efforts areas and just help the team out as much as possible."

 

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