You wouldn’t think so going off recent headlines, but the South Sydney Rabbitohs believe their spine players can “shake up the competition” despite an embarrassing 32-12 thrashing to the Dragons last Thursday night.
That is the opinion of veteran winger Josh Mansour.
The 32-year-old is currently starring for the Bunnies at NSW Cup level, crossing the line for two tries and running for 152m in his fifth-placed team’s big 38-12 win away to Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles on Sunday.
And he believes confidence is still high among his first-grade peers that they can go better than last year’s NRL Grand Final appearance.
That is despite the fact South Sydney is fighting for survival in the NRL top eight – with seven wins and seven losses – after its crushing defeat to the Dragons.
“We’ve been up and down. (But) I feel like we’ve definitely got the squad to shake up this competition,” Mansour told BettingSite.com.au.
This confidence comes after five-eighth Cody Walker continues to attract criticism for his volatile temperament, despite being a senior player with NSW representative experience.
Rookie halfback Lachlan Ilias also had his confidence severely dented after being hooked by coach Jason Demetriou with just 29 minutes on the clock in the Round 15 fixture.
The move drew the ire of News Corp reporter Phil Rothfield, who was particularly critical of the call.
But Mansour has thrown his support behind Ilias – this year’s roster replacement for star No.7 Adam Reynolds, who the club offloaded to Brisbane in controversial fashion – and believes he has a bright future.
“We’ve obviously lost a few star players, but that’s no excuse – we’ve still got our core spine there,” Mansour said.
“With Adam gone that’s hurt us quite a bit, but I feel like everyone has to up the ante across the park.
“It’s just about being accountable. Not pointing the fingers at anyone, but we’ve still got plenty to work on.
“He (Ilias) is one of the young guys coming through who has huge potential. He’ll just keep on getting better and better.
“He’s learnt a few big lessons the past couple of weeks, but he’s got so much growth in him.”
Despite the Rabbitohs’ first-grade playmakers being heavily scrutinised over the first half of the 2022 NRL season, the club has some spine players in fine form alongside Mansour at NSW Cup level.
Fullback Jacob Gagai (a try, try assist and 179m against Blacktown), five-eighth Jack Campagnolo (try assist), halfback Dean Hawkins (two try assists) and NRL-experienced hooker Peter Mamouzelos stood out against the Sea Eagles and have been consistent all season.
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NSW and Australia representative Mansour – with 86 tries from 174 NRL appearances – has been delighted with the collective form of the South Sydney spine in the NSW Cup.
“It’s definitely clicking. Deano’s been on fire, same with Campo, and Gags at the back has been Mr Consistent all year,” he said.
“He’s just so reliable, and he always offers us so much at the back.
“So many guys have been coming in and out, and everyone who has pulled on the jumper has played to the best of their ability.
“So it’s been good.”
Like Mamouzelos, developing prop Davvy Moale also has NRL experience and continues to impress at NSW Cup level.
“Davvy’s got a huge future ahead of him, especially Pete,” Mansour said.
“And for them to play at this level instead of playing Jersey Flegg shows where their mindset is.
“Full credit to them. They don’t want to get too carried away with themselves.
“They just want to keep mastering their craft.”
Mansour said the expected return of superstar fullback Latrell Mitchell after hamstring and COVID setbacks would give Souths a massive boost ahead of their Round 16 NRL clash against the Eels at Accor Stadium on Saturday night.
“Obviously, everyone knows what Latrell brings to the team with his energy and X-factor footy,” the winger said.
“So I’m sure all the boys are ready for him to get back into the team and score some tries for us.”
Mansour certainly would not let down his teammates at NRL level if needed at any stage this season.
He has seven tries from eight appearances in the NSW Cup this year.
“Obviously I want to be playing in the NRL side, but I’m not sulking or kicking stones,” he said.
“I’m really enjoying my time playing NSW Cup. The boys here are really making it enjoyable for me.
“I’m very happy.”
Meanwhile for Blacktown Workers, blockbusting young winger Ray Vaega is hoping to return from an ankle injury when the Sea Eagles resume their 2022 campaign against Mounties at HE Laybutt Field next Sunday.
Vaega has been sidelined the past two weeks with the setback that flared up the morning after scoring a try in a standout performance which helped his side to a 22-16 win over North Sydney at 4 Pines Park in Round 13 action.
NSW Cup players will enjoy a bye this weekend.
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