The NSWRL has cast its eye over the 12 teams who will take part in The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup in 2022, with the opening round to kick off on Saturday 12 March. The state’s premier competition remains a valuable pathway for higher honours with 52 players going on last season to play in the NRL. Today, the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs NSW Cup side fortunes last year were quite the opposite of their NRL team.
While the Rabbitohs battled the Panthers in the NRL Grand Final, The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup side languished in 11th place – wooden spoon territory - when the season was cut short in July due to COVID-19.
It was a far cry from making the Preliminary Finals in 2019, which was the last time the NSW Cup completed a full season.
Then again South Sydney did have four players promoted from The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup to the NRL in Dean Hawkins, Peter Mamouzelos, Blake Taaffe and Lachlan Ilias. Taaffe played in the Grand Final and Ilias is expected to give the NRL Rookie of the Year a nudge in 2022 as he takes over halfback duties from Adam Reynolds (Broncos).
Take a closer look at the 2021 The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup results and the Rabbitohs only enjoyed two wins (Mounties and Raiders) against nine losses, although a couple of those games were by four points or less.
Getting consistency and confidence high once more will be the focus for incoming coach Dane Dorahy, who takes over from Steve Antonelli.
“It wasn’t our happiest season last year but we led the top-six teams with 15 minutes to go in games and then we’d fall over at the final hurdle,” Dorahy said.
“So we weren’t too far off the mark. I’ve been putting a bit more attention to detail with our part-time group because they need to be at a certain level if they’re called up to play NRL.
“We’re recruited a little better as far as the part-time group is concerned with both backs and forwards – we’ve got some really good players added to the group.”
Among those are former Manly back rower James Hasson, who has returned after time with Salford and Wakefield Trinity in Super League; outside back Shannon Gardiner from North Sydney Bears; and centre Jake Tago, brother of Panthers forward Izack Tago.
Dorahy was able to give most of his The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup players a run in Jason Demetriou’s NRL side in the 24-12 loss to the Cowboys trial game.
There was one trial game for The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup squad against the Dragons and Dorahy felt lots of lessons were learned there.
“We were down 26-6 last week through our mistakes, dropped balls, silly penalties,” he said. “But once we had a chat at half-time telling them where they needed to be better we won the second half 18-6.
“So I was pleased with the fightback and how we turned the game around. We need more of that in the season proper.”
Dorahy, whose twin brother Jason is his assistant coach, also has another valuable resource in his father – former Illawarra Steelers points-scoring legend, Australian Test fullback (1978) and NSW Firsts (1979) player John Dorahy.
Dorahy Snr went on to coach Wigan and Warrington in Super League.
“I showed the game to Dad because I really want us to play a good style of footy and back our ‘D’ if we make an error,” he said. “So he offered a few tips and it’s just all about working hard and staying positive.”
Players to Watch
Jacob Gagai and Shaquai Mitchell – both siblings of NRL stars Dane Gagai and Latrell Mitchell.
“Jacob is the splitting image of his brother and plays with the same energy. He’s 25 now and not unlike Cody Walker in the sense he could be making his debut late,” Dorahy said.
“I think if Jacob got an opportunity to train in a full NRL pre-season, he’d just go ahead in leaps and bounds and be a first grader until his early 30s.
“And Shaq is a halfback in a prop’s body. I love everything about Shaq.”
Shaq Mitchell made his Indigenous All Stars debut this year, alongside his brother.
“Working with him last year and watching him mentally strive to be the best he can be, and drop the weight he did was great to see,” Doraghy said.
“We told him last year if he could get under 130kg – he was 145kg – that he’d get a spot on the bench.
“He did that and played two games and played good minutes. He’s about 118kg now and he’s continued to work hard with a full pre-season under his belt. He didn’t look out of place against the Cowboys.”