Phil Rothfield believes Souths need to be careful in their negotiations with Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell with Wayne Bennett circling and slammed the call to hook rookie Lachlan Ilias.
The Rabbitohs were blown off the park by the Dragons in Round 15 and now face the hardest run home of any of the top eight sides in a bid to play finals.
Added to their on-field struggles, the Rabbitohs have their two best players in Walker and Mitchell coming off contract next season and free to negotiate with NRL rivals from November 1 and Rothfield believes the club has a fight on their hands to keep both players.
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“Souths have Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell under contract for next year,” Rothfield said on NRL 360.
“But as of November they can talk as a package or on their own to rival clubs.
“There is a guy in Brisbane called Wayne Bennett who loves him (Walker) and is looking for a playmaker.
“The problem Souths have got is they have a history of stuffing up negotiations.
“They had Adam Reynolds and they had Alex Johnston and they all went pear-shaped, so they need to do this not so publicly and with not so much drama.”
Meanwhile, James Hooper believes the decision to make Ilias the scapegoat for their horror show against the Dragons was the wrong one and could have a lasting negative effect on the young playmaker.
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“I think they are in a lot of trouble,” Hooper said of Souths on NRL 360.
“They were putrid in that opening half against St George Illawarra. I can’t recall the last time a Souths side played that poorly.
“Obviously the big story out of the game was that coach Jason Demetriou made the huge decision around young gun halfback Lachlan Ilias.
“I have got to say, I didn’t agree with it. At that stage of the game to hook a developing playmaker I think it shatters his confidence and I think there is going to be some scar tissue rolling forward.”
Paul Kent questioned why there has been so much focus on Ilias’ performance against the Dragons when senior playmaker Walker was also off his game and frustrated into losing his head in key moments.
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“Why so much on Ilias’ performance and not Cody Walker’s performance the other night?” Kent said.
“Cody Walker is the senior playmaker.”
“That’s the million dollar question,” Hooper replied.
“I can answer that and I have said it in columns that they did the wrong thing in hooking the kid in the 28th minute,” Rothfield said.
“What he doesn’t have and Cody Walker does is form. He was No.3 in the Dally M’s last year.
“You don’t drag Cody, but I wouldn’t have dragged the halfback either.”
Kent believes Walker needs to show more leadership and change his volatile approach to have a more positive impact on his teammates, who desperately need him to show the way forward.
“Cody has got to understand that he is a leader and a senior part of that team and he needs to carry himself above his own actions at the moment,” Kent said.
“From the point of view of some of the petulance that we see out of him.
“He needs to curb that if only to set a good example for the bokes around him because it doesn’t seem to be having a positive impact on his team.”
Rothfield believes the last spot in the top eight could come down to the Rabbitohs and the Roosters Round 25 clash to open the new stadium at Moore Park in light of Souths’ horror run home.
“The Rabbitohs are on 16 competition points,” Rothfield said.
“I have had a close look at their draw. I think they are going to need 26 to scrape into the top eight this year.
“Their draw is the hardest of any of the contenders. They have got to play Storm. They have got to play Penrith. They have got to play the Cowboys. They have then got Parramatta twice then Roosters and Sharks.
“That huge game at the new stadium in Round 25 could well be the first week of the finals for the Roosters and the Rabbitohs. It is a monster game.
“They will both need to win to make the eight. With that draw and they have had their bye I can’t see them (Souths) making the eight.”