Wednesday , October 27 2021

NRL 2021: Southern defender Sydney Rabbitoh’s Blake Taaffe breaks the grand final record of fewer matches


Blake Taaffe will make history next Sunday when he becomes the player with the least training experience for a grand NRL final.

The young Rabbitohs defender, who has played hard in the No. 1 shirt, despite being a specialist midfielder since the suspension of Latrell Mitchell’s season, will be left without his eighth game in the Telstra Premier League.

It will be just his sixth start, with two of his seven-game career coming off the bench, making him the most inexperienced player of the National League era to take part in the biggest game of the season.

Moses Mbye, who entered the Canterbury Grand Final Team in prostitution in 2014 as a rookie when Michael Ennis was ruled out due to a foot injury, holds the record with eight games.

* Information provided by League Information Services

Melbourne’s Scott Anderson had played nine games before taking part in the 2008 defeat to Manly, while his forwards Alex Chan (Parramatta in 2001) and David Thompson (Canterbury in 1998) entered their first grand final after 10 parties.

Taaffe is a veteran compared to some of the players who have been on the all-time list of fewer games played before a grand final, according to official league information services records of David Middleton, a statistician of the NRL.

Five players – Harold “Mick” Rankine for Wests in 1932, Ernie Hammerton of South Sydney in 1949, Peter Boulton of Balmain in 1969, Russell Cox of St George in 1971 and Eastern Suburbs center John Rheinberger in 1975 – entered the great final battle with only one match under his belt.

Rheinberger, famously, had only played as a substitute in the preliminary final against Manly in 1975 before taking part in Saints ’memorable 38-0 defeat in the SCG decisive. And he didn’t play in first grade again.

* Information provided by League Information Services

Few games before a grand finale in history

Another 10 players had two games on the resume before playing in a grand final with the latest example Steve Halliwell for Parramatta in 1982.

The grand finals were played sporadically after being introduced in 1930 before being mandatory in 1954.

Taaffe was dynamic behind in the preliminary 36-16 final win over Manly on Friday and also stepped up to take on goal duties as captain Adam Reynolds was hampered by a groin injury, landing four of seven attempts.

Fewer games before a grand finale in the NRL era

The South have been preparing Taaffe to take over as mid-season next season with the skipper heading to Brisbane.

The former NSW U-20 rep has been paralyzed by a lack of playing time over the past two seasons due to second-tier competitions being suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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When asked about how he has kept the team on track to achieve the ultimate grand glory despite losing his star defense to Mitchell over the past month, coach Wayne Bennett diverted credit to his players for joining to task and concentrate around Taaffe.

“You’ll always have that moment when you lose that player you don’t want to lose, but if it’s the end of your season what are you working for?” said after the victory over the sea eagles.

“It was wonderful tonight. The players are great with him, you can’t underestimate what Adam and Cody [Walker] bring him and how they help him on the field, Damien Cook too ”.

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Souths CEO Blake Solly described the rookie as a sage beyond his 22s.

“He’s surrounded by great players and Wayne has said several times this year that he wouldn’t be there if we didn’t have confidence in him,” he said.

“He has a good head on his shoulders in general and with coaches like Wayne and Jason [Demetriou] around him, we are sure that he will take care of the challenge very well.

“Blake has just had a wonderful temperament and the fact that he has gone through the system with many of our younger guys over the years means he plays with some good teammates and that helps a lot.

“The fact that he is backed by some of his closest friends on the squad and that he has some senior players who take care of him as well, is a fantastic combination for him.”

Former Kangaroo right-back Billy Slater told Inside the NRL Monday night that the young Rabbitohs keeper had caught his eye.

“Wayne Bennett, he’s done it before; he’s instilled a whole lot of confidence in this young man and Blake hasn’t played too much in his hand.

“He came out here and pulled the trigger when he needed to, but he played with real control. For a youngster, he’s been very mature.

“I was very impressed with this young man, Blake Taaffe,” he said.

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