Big headache facing Souths after Latrell ban

4 weeks ago 19
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NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler has endorsed Souths youngster Blake Taaffe to step straight into the hole left at fullback in the wake of Latrell Mitchell's six-week ban for his brutal hit on former Roosters teammate Joey Manu.

With finals just around the corner, Mitchell's ban is an undoubted blow for South Sydney's title hopes as coach Wayne Bennett faces a tough selection call after settling on a best 17 that has been powering into the post-season.

Two paths lie ahead. The first sees Bennett shifting one of his current stars to the No.1 jersey, risking the balance of his line-up. The second sees him bring in a fresh face for a straight swap with Mitchell at the expense of experience on the park.

Fittler says if he were in Bennett's position, he could see only one way forward – to play young gun Taaffe.

Joey Manu suffered a suspected facial fracture after a big hit from Latrell Mitchell. (Getty)

"He's good, he did a great job when they were playing him," Fittler told Wide World of Sports' The Final Whistle.

"The one thing they did, they were on a bit of a role for that period and he fitted in really well.

"I'd be much more comfortable doing that than moving an Alex Johnston or a Cody Walker and making too many changes in the front line.

"He'd know all their plays, he'd know where they have to get to and, like I said, he's confident. A confident kid."

Blake Taaffe impressed for Souths during his stints this season. (Getty)

Despite the step up in quality during the post-season, Jillaroos great Ruan Sims backed Taaffe to rise to the occasion owing to the combinations he formed with the squad earlier in the season when moonlighting in the No.1 jersey.

The 22-year-old made four appearances for the Bunnies this year, scoring a try along the way.

"Blake Taaffe would be able to do it without having to make too many changes to the existing line-up," she said.

"He fits straight into the mold they have, and then you still have Benji Marshall coming off the bench to provide that little bit of spark, that little bit of magic when the forwards get tired. That's what he's really good at.

Roosters hardnut fires abuse at Latrell over monster hit

"He's been there before and he's done it before, so he's not getting thrown in the deep end. Yes, it's moving into finals. But he's cut his teeth earlier in the year and he's shown he's a very talented young man. Very confident under the high ball."

Fittler also reminded Souths fans that they were faced with a similar situation last finals when Mitchell injured his hamstring. They were arguably the surprise package of the post-season, crashing out in a thriller to the Panthers in a preliminary final blockbuster.

"You got to remember Corey Allan did it last year," he said.

"Latrell missed a fair bit of the backend of the season and into the finals with a hamstring. And they did a fantastic job. They got to the preliminary finals so time will tell."

South Sydney have won five out of six games without Mitchell this year but they were not against top-six teams.

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