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Rising stars shine but Bennett not ruling out moving Cody Walker to fullback for finals


South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett has not ruled out playing Cody Walker as a fullback in next week’s finals match against Penrith despite three youngsters impressing for the Rabbitohs in their 20-16 win over St George on Saturday night.

With several key players rested and Latrell Mitchell suspended for the remainder of the season, Bennett experimented with youth against the Dragons which gave 21-year-old Lachlan Ilias a try on debut and rare starts for youngsters Peter Mamouzelos and Blake Taaffe, the latter auditioning for the No.1 jersey for next week’s finals.

While Taaffe was solid at fullback, Bennett was coy when asked if the 21-year-old had done enough to earn a place in the squad to face Penrith next week and prevent a structural reshuffle that would see Walker deployed at fullback and Benji Marshall come into the halves to partner Adam Reynolds.

“That’s still an option. My challenge is to make the right decision and make the best decision for the team, so they’re all on the table right now,” Bennett said. “I know [Marshall] can [start in the halves], that’s what he came for. He’s been invaluable for us this year.”

With such inexperience around him, Marshall played a pivotal role guiding a second-string Souths to a win over the hapless Dragons, who have lost every match since their ill-fated barbecue that breached lockdown measures. The veteran was at his commanding best but it was the youngsters who began the brightest. Ilias scored on debut, pouncing on his own short kick that was fumbled by Dragons winger Mikaele Ravalawa.

Lachlan Ilias scored a try on debut for the Rabbitohs on Saturday night.

Lachlan Ilias scored a try on debut for the Rabbitohs on Saturday night.Credit:NRL Photos

Just one year Ilias’ elder, Campbell Graham stole the spotlight by seizing on two more handling errors by the Dragons. First, Gerard Beale spilt a pass 20 metres out from the line that Graham seized on to score. Then Dragons fullback Tyrell Sloan couldn’t handle Marshall’s high ball, allowing Graham to score a simple four-pointer and make it 14-0 at the break.


The youngsters continued to impress for Souths after the break with Ilias and Taaffe combining to set up Taane Milne to score in the corner.

The Dragons took 69 minutes to get on the scoreboard with Sloan pulling one back, grounding Corey Norman’s short kick to make it 20-6. Sloan scored a second shortly after, bursting through a gap in the line to score in the corner. Ravalawa then ran over Taaffe for a try in the last minute to set up a tense finish at 20-16. It was too little, too late.

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