Taking the fifth: The four Bunnies who are September specials Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content Loading 3rd party ad content

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By Christian Nicolussi

They were all on the park when Cooper Cronk and his dodgy shoulder inspired the Sydney Roosters in 2018.

Ditto Josh Papalii for Canberra in 2019. Add to that the loss to Penrith in 2020, then the blowout victory over Manly last year.

The bulk of the Panthers have come through the juniors together and played in plenty of big games, but South Sydney will have four of their own players feature in the club’s fifth straight preliminary final.

Cameron Murray, Damien Cook, Cody Walker and Junior Tatola certainly know what finals football is all about.

Alex Johnston would have joined them for his fifth preliminary final only to be ruled out with a hip-flexor injury, and replaced by Richie Kennar.

Tom Burgess was also on track for a fifth straight week-three final, only to be sidelined through suspension, while Campbell Graham and Mark Nicholls did not feature in 2020 and 2018 respectively.

Fantastic four ... Junior Tatola, Cameron Murray, Cody Walker and Damien Cook.

Fantastic four ... Junior Tatola, Cameron Murray, Cody Walker and Damien Cook.Credit:Sunny Brar/South Sydney

Coach Jason Demetriou was unaware of the impressive achievement, but was quick to point out the four players would have a huge say on whether they could cause an Accor Stadium boilover against minor premiers Penrith on Saturday night.

“They’re all leaders who have grown over that time, and will have a big say on the game on Saturday night,” Demetriou said. “They’re comfortable in this arena, they know what it’s about, and all four have been excellent for us.”

Tatola, this year’s George Piggins Medal winner, wore the No.20 in his rookie 2018 season, and quickly realised the quirky statistic after full-time in last Saturday’s win over Cronulla at Allianz Stadium.

“I actually remember running out for my first prelim, there were a lot of people there, and it’s still one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of since playing first grade,” said Tatola, whose Bunnies lost to bitter rivals the Roosters that night.

“It’s pretty crazy this is my fifth straight prelim. They don’t get any easier. I know the prelim games are the hardest ones to win. It isn’t a pass mark until [you make the grand final].

“The experience we’ve got will go a long way and help a few of the younger guys like Lachie [Ilias] and ‘Tassy’ [Isaiah Tass] who haven’t been a part of it.”

Demetriou opted for Kennar over Josh Mansour, while Jaxson Paulo was omitted from the original 22-man squad altogether.

“It will be a defensive style of game against Penrith, and Richie’s best attributes are he’s strong out of the back of the field and excellent in the air,” Demetriou said. “They are two important things to take into this game and why he got the nod.

“‘Sauce’ [Mansour] was OK, as was Jaxson, but this week is about picking the right guy for the right occasion.”

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