South Sydney rookie Blake Taaffe has given Rabbitohs fans a look towards the future after passing his NRL Finals litmus test against competition heavyweights Penrith Panthers.
Taaffe, 22, who was under the microscope in the lead up to the clash after being called up to stand in for the suspended Latrell Mitchell, had a shaky start after dropping the first bomb by Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary but recovered to play a role in the 16-10 upset win.
The Souths No.1 made no errors for the remaining 73 minutes, producing two line break assists, a match-winning try assist for Jaxson Paulo, and running for 113 metres, to book a Preliminary Final appearance for the Rabbitohs.
Coach Wayne Bennett gave Taaffe, the man touted to wear the Adam Reynolds’ vacant No.7 jersey in 2022, a glowing endorsement post-match in just his sixth NRL match.
“I think he did a tremendous job,” Bennett said.
“I think we handled him well (during the week) but more importantly he handled himself well.
“We wouldn’t have put him out there if we didn’t believe in him, not in a game like this.”
While Taaffe will play a key role full-time for the club in 2022 and beyond, the La Perouse junior has shown his capability in both the fullback and halfback roles throughout the lower grades and his 14 Knock-On Effect NSW Cup appearances.
Taaffe played at junior level and in the Harold Matthews Cup as a fullback by trade and later moved into halves when he returned to South Sydney in the SG Ball Cup, before captaining his side in their Premiership-winning 2019 Jersey Flegg Cup season.
With the likes of Troy Dargan and Dean Hawkins partnering at six and seven in recent NSW Cup seasons, Taaffe moved back to fullback, and including Saturday’s win he has not looked out of place since making the jump to first grade.
The Rabbitohs rookie certainly has the skill and temperate to excel in multiple key positions but while that is a question for next year, Blake Taaffe and South Sydney have one more item on their agenda for 2021 – a Grand Final win.