South Sydney must find the best answer to Nathan Cleary’s torpedo bombs in the NRL qualifying final as they decide who will replace Latrell Mitchell at No.1.
Cleary will linger on the mind of Wayne Bennett all week as he weighs up what to do with South Sydney’s No.1 jersey.
Bennett is yet to decide how he will replace banned fullback Latrell Mitchell for the NRL finals, after trialling rookie Blake Taaffe there against St George Illawarra.
Mitchell’s absence will be most felt against Penrith in Saturday’s qualifying final, after Cleary terrorised South Sydney’s back three with his kicking last month.
Injured winger Josh Mansour struggled under Cleary’s bombs, as the Panthers half’s kicking game changed the entire match.
“If he (Taaffe) goes back there I will be confident he can handle (Cleary’s kicking),” Bennett said.
“If I am not confident on it he won’t be playing.”
Other options for Bennett include playing Cody Walker at fullback and putting Benji Marshall at five-eighth, although it seems unlikely he would want to split up Walker and Adam Reynolds in the halves.
Alternatively Alex Johnston could return to fullback for the first time since Round 7, in turn opening the door for Taane Milne to start on the wing.
Regardless, Bennett is adamant Souths are better placed than in their past three preliminary final finishes.
Their 20-4 record is the best of Bennett’s long coaching career at any club, while it also marks the most wins in any Rabbitohs regular season.
The Bunnies’ only losses have come against the top two teams in Melbourne and Penrith, but it will no doubt worry Bennett that they have not pushed them in any of those games.
“We’ve had players injured, Origin players missing, you name it,” Bennett said.
“To think we have only lost four games in a season, it’s certainly the best team I have coached.
“I believe we have had a better team each year I have been here. I do believe are a better team than the one we were last year.
“We’re a better team across the park. Latrell adds to that, but he’s not going to be there.
“But in terms of the whole team with 30 players across the squad and the football we have played this year compared to last year…it’s pretty special.”