Forget Greg Inglis, Issac Luke is the most important player in the South Sydney line-up, according to Wayne Bennett.
Inglis has been ruled of the Rabbitohs’ round 25 NRL match with Bennett’s Broncos on Thursday due to a knee injury.
But hooker Luke returns from a one-match suspension for what is a must-win match for the Rabbitohs if they are to stay in the hunt for a top four finish.
Inglis’ absence is a considerable blow to Souths’ hopes of back-to-back premierships.
But supercoach Bennett believes the return of Luke, alongside five-eighth Luke Keary who also missed last week’s loss to the Bulldogs due to suspension, is more important for Michael Maguire’s side.
“I think Luke is their most important player personally,” Bennett said at Broncos training at Mascot on Wednesday.
“I rate him very, very highly and I love what he does every week. He will make a big difference coming back for them in what he creates and the way he plays.”
Alex Johnston moves to fullback for Inglis with Joel Reddy coming onto the wing.
“(Inglis) is one of the great players of our game so you always miss them,” Bennett said.
“They have a pretty good replacement there, but it’s not GI. They just have to manage it, we all go through that.”
Things have changed dramatically for the equal ladder-leading Broncos since they were smashed 36-6 in the opening game of the season by the Rabbitohs, who sit fourth heading into the penultimate round.
“We are a lot different to that first game we played, if we played like that all season, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” Bennett said.
“It is a good test for us. They were the premiers last year and the week before we played the premiers from 2013 (Sydney Roosters) and next week we play (Melbourne) the premiers from 2012. So it couldn’t be much better for us probably to play those quality teams.
“My young players here, a lot of them haven’t played in those big games so it is a big event for them.”
Bennett said Jack Reed will return at centre after missing last weekend’s loss to the Sydney Roosters in place of Dale Copley.
John Sutton returns to the Rabbitohs’ back-row upon the return of Keary.