PERTH, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 10: Adam Reynolds and Dane Gagai of the Rabbitohs look up at the replay screen during the round one NRL match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the New Zealand Warriors at Optus Stadium on March 10, 2018 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

Clunky.

It's not a word which was used all that much when talking about the South Sydney Rabbitohs and their attack throughout the 2021 season.

But it was the word which came to mind over and over again during South Sydney's opening clash of the 2022 season against the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium.

While Adam Reynolds and Wayne Bennett have taken all the headlines over the off-season, there was another name which South Sydney fans wish they could have back after just 80 minutes of the new season.

Dane Gagai.

The Queensland State of Origin star, who departed for a longer-term deal at one of his former clubs in the Newcastle Knights over the off-season, was the glue which held the left edge together last year.

At both ends of the park, Gagai is among the best in the competition in his left centre spot, and was a big part of the reason everyone around him was simply so excellent throughout 2021.

From Alex Johnston's unbelievable scoring exploits, to Cody Walker's try assist record, and the way all the pieces just seemed to slot in, Gagai was the glue.

The opening round loss was hardly expected for last year's grand finalists, with the Broncos missing Adam Reynolds and coming off what was some sloppy looking form in the trials, with no clear picture over who should have been lining up in the halves.

While Albert Kelly put his hand up to remain there when Reynolds returns from both knee soreness and coronavirus next week, it was the Rabbitohs clunkiness, and at times, lost looking attack, which will be what the headlines are about coming out of the low-scoring, gritty contest.

The chief problem was Cody Walker's performance. While he had impact every time he walked onto the field last year on that dominant left edge, it wasn't the case in the season opener.

Some of that credit has to go to the Brisbane defensive effort, which was excellent from start to finish, but Walker looked a different player to the one who knocked down all opposition last year.

South Sydney weren't assisted either by not having Latrell Mitchell or Blake Taaffe on the park, which forced Alex Johnston to fullback and Josh Mansour onto the wing.

Mansour was poor at both ends of the ground, and the Rabbitohs missed the running and defensive output which has been on display for years from Johnston.

But it was replacing Gagai which seemed to be the biggest problem for the cardinal and myrtyle.

Instead of Jaxson Paulo being able to confidently stride into the role and take over, he fumbled and bumbled his way through the game, putting in what could only be described as a poor performance at both ends of the park.

By the time it was all said and done, Paulo really only had a single try assist to write home about, and while he made 103 metres, it came from 15 runs and he never once looked as if he was going to be a major thorn in the side of Brisbane's defence.

Add that to a poor defensive combination with Mansour, even if the stats don't show it, and it's quite obvious that the Rabbitohs have failed to build a replacement for Gagai.

Their backline on the whole looked short on depth coming into 2022, and that's the way it was shown to be in Round 1.

The addition of Mitchell next week when they make the trip to Melbourne will undoubtedly be a boost for Jason Demetriou's side, but the loss to Brisbane is an alarming wake up call for the 2021 grand finalists, particularly given Taane Milne or Isaiah Tass are the only realistic options to slot in at centre as they attempt to replace Gagai.

It may take time for the Rabbitohs to build into their work this year, but with the Storm away next week, followed by matches with the Roosters and Panthers, it's quite conceivable that the club could be zero and four come the end of the first month, and that is a record which few teams recover from.

They need answers, and they need them in a hurry.

1 COMMENT

  1. It’s interesting how three of the clubs we thought would do well have bombed in Round 1. Cronulla and the Sharks both were tipped for the eight and got rolled. Manly looked almost clueless and were completely overwhelmed by Penrith.

    Gagai ? Dunno. You could be right, but I feel it was the absence of Reynolds that messed up the halves and everything behind them just fell apart. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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