Blake Taaffe may share the fullback duties with Latrell Mitchell in South Sydney’s clash with St George Illawarra on Saturday night at Accor Stadium, with Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou revealing the representative star was battling a knee injury.
Taaffe, who deputised for Mitchell in last year’s finals while he was suspended, will fill the No.14 jersey in his first appearance of the season and Demetriou said he would again provide cover for the fullback role if needed.
Mitchell had a cortisone injection after last weekend’s loss to Penrith and will play against the Dragons but Demetriou indicated he would not be taking any unnecessary risks with him.
“It has just been a niggling injury that he has been battling so he just got a cortisone last weekend after the game and he just stayed off it, but he is running beautifully today,” Demetriou said on Friday.
“He is pretty much 95 per cent fit now. It was more just a fluid thing on his knee that they had to sort out. I thought he had been good the first couple of weeks but it probably bothered him a bit last week.
“Taaffe is coming back from injury as well so we have the two of them who can support each other and make sure we stay strong in the game.
“Latrell is a competitor, and we want him out there playing, but we are also excited by what Taaffe brings to the team, so we want him back in the side. Having Blake there gives us an opportunity to not push people too far.”
Demetriou said Taaffe would also provide cover for the halves or outside backs but if there were no early injuries he was likely to be sent into the fray late in the first half or soon after the interval.
After completing just 26 sets out of 40 in last weekend’s 26-12 loss to the Panthers, Demetriou spoke to his players about the need to take personal responsibility for their errors.
“Looking inward has been a real focus for us this week. We have got to get our own backyard in order, and we spoke about it after the game,” he said.
“People were accepting one error as alright and if every player is accepting one error that is 17 errors, which is way too many.”
Josh Mansour has been recalled to the wing in place of Jaxson Paulo (head knock) and Demetriou said the Lebanon international had earned his spot in the team after recovering from knee surgery.
“I have been really happy with ‘Sauce’ and how he handled his stint in the NSW Cup,” Demetriou said. “He went back there with a great attitude.
“He had a knee operation at the back end of the pre-season that effected the start of his year, but he has had some minutes now and is looking good. I am looking forward to the energy he brings to the team.
“I think there is a bit of a mindset about reserve grade as a demotion instead of getting the players physically ready to play first grade. I think that is what reserve grade is really good for and his attitude has been first class.”