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Souths make key spine switch as Murray returns for Tigers clash

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27th May, 2022
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Souths are set to make two huge calls in their spine ahead of their crunch clash with the Wests Tigers this Saturday with captain Cameron Murray slated to return ahead of schedule from injury and Blake Taaffe ditched as their run-on fullback.

Bunnies coach Jason Demetriou confirmed that Murray would be back after shoulder surgery, a welcome boost for both South Sydney and New South Wales.

“We need his experience out there on the field,” said Demetriou. “He just does everything right and he’s a model professional.

“He had the surgery and was straight back into it the next day and giving himself every chance to play.

“He’ll make an impact but we’ve all got to own our own roles and we can’t be sitting back hoping he can solve our issues.

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“Indigenous Round is always a special week for our club, and to have Cam out there with the boys is important. Cam brings an aggressive mindset, a hard-working attitude, but also a genuine threat with the footy.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how he has an impact on the rest of the team. The conversation we’ve had this week was, ‘if you’re not right you’re not playing’. It was as simple as that.

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“He’s done everything as expected and more, he went through extra training after training with some contact work. He’s ready to go.

“He had a minor clean out, the surgeon told us he was a chance to play in two to three weeks, and if he feels great, he could play.

“If he gets through Saturday and feels good, he will be picked for Origin. Origin is the pinnacle of the game for these guys, he brings so much back when he plays, and I’ll also be excited to see him play there.”

Souths are set to ring a few changes: they welcome back Mark Nicholls, out since Round 4 with an ankle syndesmosis, and have cleared Taane Milne and Junior Tatola from concussion protocols.

Perhaps the biggest call of all will be that Blake Taaffe, currently deputising for the injured Latrell Mitchell at fullback, is set to revert to an interchange role with Kodi Nikorima slated to move to the back.

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The move reflects what many have seen with Taaffe, who has played almost all of his first grade career at fullback but was predominantly a half in junior football and reserve grade.

Blake Taaffe of the Rabbitohs

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

His stats in 2022 reflect his inexperience in the fullback role: his error rate is among the highest in the NRL, akin to the much-maligned Matt Dufty and Tyrell Sloan, and his overall metres with ball in hand are also down at the bottom of a league-wide analysis.

Nikorima, who joined the club less than a month ago, has spent the bulk of his career as a bench utility player but came in at 1 last week when injuries forced Taaffe into the centres.

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“Kodi will play fullback tomorrow night,” Demetriou told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Blake is still learning his craft, it gives us good utility value off the bench as well. Kodi gives us some experience and a voice in and around our spine.

“I’m looking forward to what he does and the value he brings to our team.”

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Souths have been hammered by errors this year, with the worst completion rate in the NRL, so making a move that sures up that part of the game is something of a no-brainer, at least until regular fullback Mitchell – currently receiving intensive treatment in the USA – is cleared to return.

Taaffe combined well with halfback Lachlan Ilias in juniors and reserve grade, and still rates well for attacking metrics such as line break assists and try involvements, especially when ratioed to the relatively low number of total possessions that he has.

If South Sydney can use Nikorima to help them out of yardage, while extracting the best in offence from Taaffe, they might find a decent stopgap until Latrell comes back.

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