They’re the unknown quartet behind the Rabbitohs’ late season resurgence, but it’s well and truly time the rugby league world became acquainted with Redfern’s unsung heroes.
Since the pre-season, pundits have written off South Sydney’s ‘under strength’ forward pack, the loss of Sam and George Burgess as well as premiership-winning captain John Sutton becoming too much of a mountain to climb, in many people’s eyes.
And while rightful praise have been given to starters like Tevita Tatola, Bayley Sironen and Origin bolter Jaydn Su’A, it’s the men on the pine that deserve some recognition.
When you read the names ‘Mark Nicholls, Liam Knight, Jed Cartwright, Keaon Koloamatangi’ on the Bunnies’ team sheet, it doesn’t strike fear into many opposition packs.
But it’s these four ‘Energiser Bunnies’ ensuring Souths stay in the hunt when their starters hit the bench, and they’re doing it with a measly combined 152 NRL games worth of experience.
That’s right - Penrith captain James Tamou has played more than 110 NRL matches than the entire Rabbitohs’ bench combined, but you wouldn’t know it by the way they’re playing.
Koloamatangi only debuted in Round 4 this year, yet the 22 year-old big man is averaging nearly 109 metres and over 17 tackles a game (at 90% efficiency) across his 13 appearances.
While many credit Damien Cook’s crafty work out of dummy half for Liam Knight’s first try of the season last weekend, it was Koloamatangi’s charging run and clean play with the ball that had the Eels’ defence on the back foot.
Knight was mentioned before the season as a NSW bolter by Freddy Fittler, and while injuries have seen him not quite live up to the hype, he’s hitting form at the right time.
Averaging 116 metres and 24 tackles across his 18 games, Knight’s numbers are ahead of fellow bench prop Mark Nicholls, who has been in career-best form over the last ten weeks.
Despite debuting over eight years ago for the Raiders, Nicholls has only managed 82 NRL games - 54 of which have been in the Cardinal and Myrtle over the past three years.
A humble fellow hailing from Wagga Wagga, his constant grinning and big, bald melon might fool some, but after grabbing his first (and second) try since 2012, Nicholls is chock full of confidence.
Lastly a name synonymous with the NRL, Jed Cartwright for a long time looked like someone who was never going to fully make it.
With injuries and some beyond quality players in front of him, Cartwright managed just one game at Penrith, his debut last year, before a mid-season move to Redfern rejuvenated the back-rower.
After making his club debut off the bench in Round 18 against the Tigers, Cartwright has featured in every match for South Sydney since.
And while his stats aren’t enormous, the energy he brings off the bench coupled with his speed, versatility and ability to put on a bone-rattling hit leaves Jed as another Wayne Bennett work in progress.
And now, in just his seventh NRL game, Cartwright will be given the task of bringing down his former club, a Panthers outfit who haven’t lost a game since mid-June.
It’s a bit ‘Moneyball’-esque, to be honest. Instead of Wayne replacing two of the Burgess brothers as well as John Sutton, he’s ‘recreated them in the aggregate’.
Players who, whilst not the caliber of those recently departed, can work together and accomplish the work that their predecessors did themselves.
While the likes of Tom Burgess, Cam Murray and Tevita Tatola will steal the limelight of this drastically underrated pack, watch for those numbered 14-17 on the park, the quartet who keeps this side in the match when ‘the stars’ head off.
They won’t disappoint.