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Rabbitohs reveal deadliest Shield line-up

South Sydney are set create history during Saturday night's Charity Shield in Mudgee, unveiling the greatest indigenous backline ever assembled in the NRL.

Led by Kangaroo import Latrell Mitchell, who is making his first appearance for the foundation club, Souths will take on St George Illawarra with five, and possibly six, indigenous players from five-eighth through to fullback.

According to rugby league historian David Middleton, it is only the fourth time in 20 years that an NRL side has boasted five or more Aboriginal players out wide, with the Bunnies' 2020 line-up undoubtedly the strongest of them.

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Latrell Mitchell will headline an imperious backline. Photo: Brett Costello
Latrell Mitchell will headline an imperious backline. Photo: Brett Costello

 

 

Apart from Mitchell, the Rabbitohs will take on the Dragons with a side boasting five-eighth Cody Walker, centre pairing James Roberts and Braidon Burns, plus winger Dane Gagai.

Of that group, all but Burns played Origin for NSW or Queensland last year.

Alex Johnston, who represented Australia in 2015, also remains in contention for a spot on the Bunnies flanks, although Australian Nines representative Campbell Graham is tipped to start at wing for the season opener against Cronulla.

Quizzed on how it felt to be part of a backline boasting so much indigenous talent, Walker told The Daily Telegraph: "While it hasn't been something we've spoken about, you can feel it.

 

Cody Walker knows this will be a proud moment. Photo: Brett Costello
Cody Walker knows this will be a proud moment. Photo: Brett Costello

 

 

"With the way we indigenous boys play footy, there's a talent - a natural talent I guess - that shines through. So you can feel that there are a lot of indigenous boys here.

"There's that sense we'll not only always there, but when we are, something freakish is going to happen.And I think that's fitting for South Sydney.

"This club has a long, proud history of supporting indigenous players. We do a lot of work within indigenous communities, have a strong following within those communities too, so we're quite proud to have so many players."

 

James Roberts will be looking to have a big impact this season. Photo: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
James Roberts will be looking to have a big impact this season. Photo: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

 

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According to Middleton, in the past 20 years only three sides have boasted a backline with five or more indigenous players, and none for more than two consecutive matches.

In 2002, North Queensland played one game with a back five that included Matt Bowen, Tarin Bradford, Matt Sing, Ashley Alberts and Ty Williams.

Then in 2007, the Bunnies did the same with David Peachey, Nathan Merritt, Shannon Hegarty, Yileen Gordon and Joey Williams.

In 2011, Souths Sydney also went two weeks with six indigenous players in its backline - Rhys Wesser, Dylan Farrell, Greg Inglis, Roberts, Merritt and Chris Sandow.

Yet following the signing of Mitchell from the reigning premier Roosters, the Bunnies now boast a starting side with at least five indigenous players with experience in Tests, Origin, City/Country and All Stars.

 

Gagai is proud to be part of this group of players. Photo: Phil Hillyard
Gagai is proud to be part of this group of players. Photo: Phil Hillyard

 

"There's a lot of depth there," said Gagai, who boasts 13 Origins for Queensland and eight appearances for Australia.

"And it's an exciting backline too. All of us bar Burnsy have played representative footy and he isn't that far off, either."

Roberts added that Souths' indigenous players shared a strong "bond", which he expected to play out right throughout 2020, starting with Saturday's match in Mudgee.

"Coming from similar backgrounds, we all connect really closely," the Rabbitohs No.3 said.

"We're all really tight with one another and hopefully that will help us play some good footy out on the field this year.

"I know Souths has always had a strong indigenous culture, so it's really good to see so many boys now starting in the main squad.

"We also have some good ones coming up through the lower grades too which is important. (Laughs) The more the merrier I guess."



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