Dally M winner Tom Trbojevic, named this week as the NRL’s fullback of the year, has given Souths youngster Blake Taaffe a massive vote of confidence as the Rabbitohs’ rookie prepares to break an NRL record in the Grand Final.
Taaffe has stepped up under enormous pressure in the No.1 jersey at Souths since ‘Turbo’s’ State of Origin teammate Latrell Mitchell was banned for a hit on Joseph Manu of the Roosters.
Taaffe, 22, will be having just his sixth first grade start and eighth NRL game in Sunday’s decider, making him the most inexperienced player in the NRL era to play in a Grand Final.
Trbojevic, who will be at the game to watch several of his Blues teammates face off, says he’s been impressed with the way Taaffe has taken to the step up.
“It will be very hard but the way he’s been playing he hasn’t looked out of place so that’s a credit to him,” Trbojevic told The Roar.
“The amount of first grade games he’d played before stepping into that arena, I’d be overwhelmed for sure. He’s doing an exceptional job and I wish him all the best on Sunday.
“It’s different for everyone. I’m someone who was always very nervous and still get nervous for games.
“If you just get into just playing footy as quick as you can it gives you the best chance to play well.
“He’s certainly doing that. It doesn’t seem like he’s getting worried or holding back. He’s just going out there doing what he does best and it’s working for him. He’s very quick moves across the field very well, he’s a very good footy player and fits into that Souths side very well.”
Trbojevic says it will have been a difficult few weeks for Mitchell.
“I reckon it would be very hard to watch your side play in a Grand Final knowing you would want to be out there with them,” Trbojevic said.
“But Latrell will definitely be doing his best. They’ve got a young fullback there who’s playing some really good footy to help and the way Latrell trains is infectious. He’s definitely playing his part.”
While Trbojevic had one of the best ever individual seasons seen in the NRL, he and Manly fell just short of the Grand Final.
“Yeah I’m very disappointed,” he says. “It’s hard, you want to be playing this week. We were one game away. It’s tough but that’s how it works – back to drawing board and you go again.”
There were still, of course, plenty of great moments to reflect on, including his Dally M success.
“It was pretty special,” he said.
“You have to pinch yourself everytime you think you’re a Dally M winner. It’s so, so special, something that I’ll always be proud of.
“I really enjoyed the year I had, it was obviously disappointing to end it last week but that’s footy.”
His favourite moment came in round nine against the Warriors.
“It was my 100th game and the only game I played at Brookie this year, and I had a lot of family and friends there who have been very good to me throughout my life,” he said.
The medal presentation also buried some demons in a season where he had to undergo some serious self-assessment about his commitment, after injuring himself in an impromptu sprint race down Manly Corso.
“Obviously, it wasn’t an ideal situation how it all panned out,” Trbojevic said.
“I had to change a few things to be more professional towards rugby league. It wasn’t easy and there was obviously a lot of stress during that time, not being able to play.
“I knew what had to happen and it put me on that path for what I was able to achieve this year.”
Trbojevic doesn’t mind which team wins on Sunday, although he’s leaning towards Penrith “because they probably deserve to win one after how good they’ve been in past couple of years.
“Souths are playing some exceptional footy at the moment and it’s going to be really close,” he added.
He’s aware, of course, of the game breakers on both sides with Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary “one of the best I’ve played alongside.
“He’s got a very smart footy head, is very professional and works extremely hard.”
“He always seems to be on and it’s credit to him.
“His work ethic, not only his training but his studying and preparation for games, is second to none.
“And he’s a really good bloke, very laid back. Nothing really fazes him, he’s just a good person to be around. A lot a lot of the boys from that Penrith side are in that Origin squad and they’re great fellas and you can see why they enjoy each other’s company.”