Bunnies coach Jason Demetriou has acknowledged that one of his pre-season gambles hasn’t paid off – but gave no indication on what the future holds.
The loss of Dane Gagai was always going to be felt in that left-side of the South Sydney attack, and there were a few raised eyebrows when Jaxson Paulo, who had played all of his 25 first grade games on the wing in 2020 and 21, was named to start the year at left centre.
The 22-year-old struggled in both of Souths’ first two losses, prompting a mid-game switch on Thursday night during South Sydney’s golden point defeat to Melbourne.
Paulo was back to the right flank, and Taane Milne moved from the wing to centre.
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“It was always an option for us to put Taane there and put Jaxson back on that right wing,” he said post-match.
“I thought Jaxson was having not the best night with his hands, but we were creating opportunities over there so we just needed to get Taane there and I thought he did a good job when he went there and Jaxson did a good job on the wing.”
The switch, which came midway through the second half, worked a treat. Down 14-0, Milne set up the opening try to Alex Johnston, while Paulo scored the second on the other side of the field.
Given the number of chances squandered by Souths throughout the match, you can’t help but feel if that swap had come at the start of the game, the Rabbitohs would have been celebrating a famous victory.
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“There were probably three or four times where we didn’t nail the last pass,” Demetriou added.
Paulo still has a huge part to play in this team – many will fondly remember him moonwalking over the line against Manly in last year’s finals series – but it could be back on the wing, rather than in that new position.
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Captain Cam Murray said the club’s culture was strong enough to have players make mistakes and bounce back.
“He [Paulo] knows that he’s got the support of everyone, and I’m sure all the leaders will go up to him and shake his hand and tell him we’ve got his back and we believe in him,” he said.
“I think it’s important to get around him, but at the end of the day it’s a work in progress.”
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