South Sydney have pulled off a massive coup by signing former Kangaroo and New South Welshmen Josh Mansour just six weeks out from trials.
But while ‘Sauce’ is a certainty to line-up for the Bunnies in their Round 1 clash with Melbourne, he may have to learn to play in a new spot.
Mansour debuted back in 2012 for Penrith after spending multiple seasons in the Rabbitohs’ junior system, which included a 2010 Grand Final berth with the Toyota Cup side.
Since being let go from the club at the end of 2011, the hulking winger has managed seven tests for Australia, three for Lebanon and played the 2016 Origin series for the Blues.
Funnily enough, he debuted against Melbourne in 2012, scoring his maiden NRL try, before scoring his 74th in his final match for the Panthers – against the Storm. And while he’ll start his South Sydney career against Melbourne, it mightn’t be in his usual role.
Since day dot, Mansour has been an out-and-out left winger, featuring on that flank in every top-grade game he’s played. But after the way the Bunnies ended 2020, Josh might have to learn to be ambidextrous.
Alex Johnston was a staple for the Rabbitohs’ left edge attack, scoring nine tries and making nine line-breaks across the final five games of 2020.
The 26 year-old’s speed was crucial on that edge, as well as his combination with both Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell, which makes it a hard choice if head coach Wayne Bennett is to move Johnston to the right in 2021.
To his credit, ‘AJ’ has played both sides through his career, though is undoubtedly at his most deadly on the left flank. It appears certain the 2021 backline will feature Latrell Mitchell at fullback, with Campbell Graham and Dane Gagai the centres, and Mansour and Johnston on the outside.
The only question is – which side?
There’s no argument that Mansour’s greatest strength is, well, his strength. The metres he makes coming out of his own end are critical, especially for a side who’s forward pack was often critiqued last year. Jai Arrow’s inclusion will do wonders, but it’s Latrell Mitchell’s style of play that will Mansour’s metres will assist.
Mitchell isn’t like most other fullbacks when it comes to carries out of his own end. Players like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and James Tedesco averaged 220+ metres per game last year. Kalyn Ponga, Clint Gutherson and Ryan Papenhuyzen made over 180 metres each a game.
Latrell? Just 107. However as he transitioned to the role, he spoke about how he’d rather have less touches but make each one impactful, so he doesn’t burn his attacking energy. Enter Mansour, who made the fourth most amount of metres in 2020 of any player in the NRL, the most of any winger in the comp, averaging 182 metres a game.
But his pace doesn’t match Johnston’s, who scored nearly twice as many meat pies as Mansour in 2020, many that Mansour wouldn’t have been able to score himself. It’s a question it’s time Wayne asked himself – should Mansour play a side of the field he’s never played before, if it means keeping that lethal left edge together?
The Charity Shield in six weeks will be a massive indicator, bur regardless of what side they play, South Sydney have the standout backline of 2021.