Latrell Mitchell is facing up to four weeks on the sidelines following three separate charges from Saturday night’s clash against Wests Tigers, but there’s a left-field replacement option that could keep the Rabbitohs’ attack firing.
Wayne Bennett has named Alex Johnston at fullback on Tuesday for this weekend’s clash with the Gold Coast Titans, shifting Dane Gagai to the left and recalling Jaxson Paulo on the right flank and Steven Marsters at centre.
However, there’s another man already in the side that could strengthen their attack.
Latrell went down with a hamstring tear late last year, which saw Corey Allen get the nod from Wayne Bennett. While he isn’t an option having shifted to Canterbury, Mitchell’s injury saw an increase in Cody Walker’s input.
Walker played like a second fullback after Latrell went down, playing both sides of the field which lead to a dramatic increase in form, including a man of the match performance in the club’s 60-8 demolish of arch rivals, the Roosters, in the closing round of the regular season.
The potent five-eighth has 17 career starts at fullback, though hasn’t featured at the back since the 2017 season. His move to custodian would allow Benji Marshall to move into the starting side, and allow Johnston to remain on the wing.
Despite the New South Wales five-eighth not named in the number one this afternoon, there’s still every chance the Indigenous All Star could move back there when Benji Marshall comes onto the pitch, and there’s little doubt Wayne Bennett will play head games with his side before Friday’s clash.
Fans are eager to see youngster Blake Taaffe, the man touted as Adam Reynolds’ replacement, debut at fullback after featuring there in the pre-season. While the 20-year-old is slated to return from an ankle injury sustained in the Charity Shield, the South Sydney junior is outside the club’s top 30, and would require an exemption to play in the coming weeks.
Having outside backs with NRL experience like Paulo, Moga, Taane Milne and Marsters in their squad, it’s unlikely said exemption would be granted.
Allowing Cody to float to both edges while Reynolds and Benji ran the attack would be lethal, especially the ability for him to pop up on the outside of either playmaker’s hip and inject himself when needed into the attack. We saw a glimpse of what he can create when he sniffs around the ruck during the Tigers match, when he burst through the centre of the field to set up Dane Gagai.
There’s simply no question the supercoach has a range of weapons in his arsenal even without the Dally M leader, Latrell Mitchell.