South Sydney prop Junior Tatola will put aside his close bonds with Penrith stars Nathan Cleary, Dylan Edwards, and Tyrone May to bury the Panthers and book a grand final berth.
Tatola became tight with Cleary, Edwards, and May after playing Junior Kangaroos alongside the trio in 2016.
The barnstorming Rabbitohs prop will always have a soft spot for his Penrith mates, but he is wary of their potency and class heading into Saturday’s blockbuster preliminary final at ANZ Stadium.
“Seeing them shine this year as a team has been great, but we are going to have to come out strong against the Panthers,” Tatola said.
“They have won so many games this year and they are the benchmark of the NRL at the moment.
“But it was a great week when we (Cleary, Edwards and May) played in the Junior Kangaroos together.
“The whole group was close, and we also came away with the win as well.”
On top of building a friendship with Cleary, Edwards, and May, Tatola has also been burned by them as a junior in the Wests Tigers NYC under 20s team.
“Coming through the ranks they have always been pretty special,” he said.
“I also played against them quite a bit in junior footy, so I always knew that they had heaps of talent and that they could make first grade.”
South Sydney centre Campbell Graham can’t wait to take on former schoolboy teammate Stephen Crichton when the Rabbitohs clash with Penrith in Saturday’s preliminary final. Picture: Phil HillyardSource:News Corp Australia
Rabbitohs centre Campbell Graham also has close links with Penrith opposite Stephen Crichton.
Graham played in a Combined Catholic Colleges team alongside Crichton.
On Saturday night at ANZ Stadium, the pair will clash in an epic centre match-up with a grand final berth on the line.
“I played with Stephen in a junior rep team coming through the schoolboys ranks, so I got to see how talented he was,” Graham said.
“In the couple of years since then, he has progressed massively.
“He has got a lot of skill, footwork and speed, and he is good under the high ball.”
Crichton and Graham are also locked in a battle to pick up a centre position in the NSW Origin team.
Blues officials have confirmed the pair are in the running for this year’s series, starting in November.
Graham, though, is just focused on beating Crichton’s Panthers on Saturday.
“I’m not worried so much about the Origin spot – it just excites me to go head-to-head with him,” he said.
“He is a talented young kid, and he has shown everyone what he is capable of.
“It is always good as an athlete to test yourself against the best centres or opposition.”
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