Despite playing just 18 NRL games in his first two seasons, Blake Taaffe is set for a lot more first-grade in 2023 if his pre-season form has anything to do with it.
The South Sydney young gun burst onto the scene late in 2021, debuting in a cameo role off the bench before Latrell Mitchell's reckless tackle on Joseph Manu handed Taaffe the Rabbitohs' No. 1 jersey, leading the club to a Grand Final appearance.
As impressive as the 23 year-old was during his stint, Taaffe has featured in just 18 of a possible 41 NRL games since his debut, with no room in the Bunnies' backline for the local junior. However, head coach Jason Demetriou looks set to include him in South Sydney's best 17 next season.
Benji Marshall filled the Rabbitohs' No. 14 jersey in 2021, spending his sole season in Redfern as a bench utility before Kodi Nikorima filled the boots in 2022, a role Demetriou is eyeing for Taaffe next year.
"He's probably been our best in the pre-season," Demetriou told AAP.
"He learned some good lessons last year and that's put him in good stead for this year.
"He's got some good versatility, Blake.
"He's definitely shown that he needs to be in the NRL side every week."
While Mitchell's 2022 hamstring injury handed Taaffe half-a-dozen starts at fullback, he wasn't required during the Origin series after Latrell snubbed the Blues for club footy, however it's likely he'll return to the Origin arena next season.
Mitchell himself has played just 48 of a possible 77 matches for South Sydney since joining the club ahead of the 2020 season, a mix of injury and suspension leaving the superstar sidelined, and making Taaffe's utility value even higher.
"That makes him even more important for us," Demetriou said.
"I'm excited for where he goes."
Having not signed a single new recognised NRL player for 2023, Demetriou is more focused on developing their young stars than bringing in seasoned experience for them to compete with,
"There are some players who had a crack last year who I think will step up again," he said to the AAP.
"Isaiah Tass will be one of those, Shaq Mitchell as well did some really good things last year. I'm really looking forward to seeing how Isaiah Tass develops as well."
Taaffe will have the Rabbitohs' two trial matches against Manly and St. George Illawarra to impress before South Sydney takes on Cronulla in the Shire to kick-off their respective 2023 seasons.