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Benchie marshalling: Why interchange crucial in Souths-Manly stoush

All eyes will be on rival stars Tom Trbojevic and Cody Walker when Manly and South Sydney meet in Friday's preliminary final, but the bench battle could be just as decisive.

Telstra Tracker data shows the Rabbitohs rely on their interchange with their bench averaging 140 minutes per game (35 minutes per player) across the season – the third-highest total of any team.

The Sea Eagles, meanwhile, average the third-lowest total bench minutes with 116 (29 minutes per interchange player).

Of the Rabbitohs picked to start on the pine on Friday, forward Jacob Host averages the most minutes as a 'benchie' (50.7 per game).

Fellow big men Jai Arrow (37.7) and Tom Burgess (44.8) are also usually called upon for extended shifts while veteran playmaker Benji Marshall has averaged 26 minutes per match as a utility.

Aside from when Wayne Bennett didn't use Marshall at all during a 56-12 loss to the Panthers in round 11, the master coach hasn't been shy in using his replacements to generate momentum.

Host (40 minutes), Burgess (41) and Arrow (41) all played key roles in the qualifying final upset of Penrith after starting props Mark Nicholls (38) and Tevita Tatola (35) laid the early platform.

Manly utility Dylan Walker – who has transitioned from a centre into a dynamic ball-playing lock – averages 41.6 minutes off the bench.

Walker scored a try as well as producing a line-break assist and 160 metres against the Roosters last week, prompting Fox League pundit Cooper Cronk to label him a potential "trump card".

Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles - Preliminary Final

He is the focal point of coach Des Hasler's interchange rotation with forwards Taniela Paseka (31.5 minutes per game off the bench), Sean Keppie (30.1) and Karl Lawton (23.3) playing fewer minutes.

While Keppie has been named in jersey 16, he started at prop last week in an effective swap that could occur again with Martin Taupau, who was let loose for 40 minutes against the Roosters.

But with all that said, it's no secret that fans will tune into the grand final qualifying clash at Suncorp Stadium in anticipation of some brilliant attacking play from two point-scoring powerhouse teams.

The Sea Eagles' back five have been electric in 2021, so it's unsurprising to learn they cover 26.7 percent more distance at speeds quicker than 20km/h (603m v 461m) compared to their Rabbitohs counterparts.

With fullback Trbojevic and lightning-fast wingers Reuben Garrick and Jason Saab at their disposal, Manly have mustered 23 long-range tries this year with Souths only having four.

Hasler's men aren't afraid to chance their arm coming out of trouble and subsequently average one line break starting in their own half each game.

The Rabbitohs, who are so lethal at executing once they get into good-ball range, average half a line-break from their own end per match.


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