Tony Durkin: Halves duo calling the shots now

EVEN allowing for the grubbiness of the act, a Ben Te'o indiscretion has mercifully saved Michael Maguire from one of his toughest decisions as Rabbitohs coach.

Te'o faces a four-week ban following his ugly chicken wing tackle on Sam Thaiday last Friday night.

And while Maguire would be far from impressed with losing his Origin forward, at least he now has an open door through which his injured skipper John Sutton can return.

For the past three weeks, with Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary pulling the reins in the halves, the Rabbitohs have been outstanding.

In three wins they have rattled on 125 points, climbed to second on the points ladder and are now entrenched as competition favourites.

Without a premiership for 43 years, once-proud Souths fans have become almost inconsolable, particularly in the past two seasons when the Rabbitohs have fallen in the grand final qualifier.

This was after Maguire - in his first year - had resurrected his charges from a shabby ninth in 2011.

Obviously the coach had detected a chink in their armour when push came to shove in those successive preliminary final fadeouts, because during this past pre-season he tagged 21-year-old Keary to be his 2014 chief playmaker.

His bold move in clearing the decks for Keary was to switch Sutton to the forwards.

But fate floored the coach during the pre-season when Keary suffered a long-term injury, and the status quo of Sutton and Reynolds in the halves remained.

Until the past three weekends that was, when Keary returned and finally grabbed that No.6 jersey in the absence of his injured captain.

A remarkable form turnaround has occurred, with the Rabbitohs finally breaking their attacking shackles. Keary and Reynolds are now calling the shots assertively and unabated, and an average 40 points a match has flowed since they came together.

Before the Te'o incident on Friday night Maguire was facing a real dilemma.

With all players on the roster available, Sutton would have found it difficult to poke his head into a scrum ahead of George and Sam Burgess, Issac Luke, Dave Tyrell, Chris McQueen, Te'o and even rookie Kyle Turner.

But Te'o has saved his coach from that angst. When Sutton returns - which could be as early as Saturday night against the Cowboys - he is tipped to slip straight into the back row.

Maguire, however, is now facing a different blowtorch.

In the past two weeks five Souths players - George Burgess, Issac Luke, Chris McQueen, Kirisome Auva'a and Ben Te'o - have been charged with illegal tackles. Three of the five involved the deliberate and dangerous chicken wing.

While the Rabbitohs may be the sentimental second team of many NRL fans, these murky tactics are likely to be a major turn off.


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