The South Sydney Rabbitohs have been warned they need to carefully manage Cam Murray's minutes or risk burning out their superstar captain.
Murray couldn't hide his disappointment after the Bunnies once again saw their premierships hopes extinguished in Saturday night's 32-12 loss to Penrith.
The Souths captain, hooker Damien Cook and five-eighth Cody Walker have reached the last five preliminary finals but have been unable to convert their success into premierships.
Saturday night's loss was particularly hard to take after the Rabbitohs threw away a 12-0 lead, eventually running out of juice as the Panthers came home over the top of them.
Murray and fullback Latrell Mitchell - whose season was disrupted by injury - were both uncharacteristically quiet in a second half where the Bunnies fell off the pace.
Speaking on NRL 360 on Tuesday night, league journalist Paul Crawley said it was obvious to him that Murray in particular, was out on his feet and needed a rest during the game.
Crawley warned that unless South Sydney do a more effective job of managing their captain's minutes, they face the risk of burnout for the 24-year-old.
“I think they are killing him,” Crawley said of Murray on NRL 360.
“He plays 80 minutes. The pressure was lifted on him this year with Adam Reynolds going.
“He became the link to the right side. If you put his stats up against (Penrith lock) Isaah Yeo, who are both world class locks, Cameron had 30 touches and Yeo had 25.
“Cameron made 51 tackles and Yeo made about 30. They do roughly the same runs.
“But I just think there is just too much pressure on this guy and it will shorten his career if they don’t give him a bit of a break."
Crawley said it was clear during the second half in particular, that Murray needed a stint on the bench to recharge his batteries against the Panthers.
“Out there on the weekend he could not have tried any harder. He needed a break, but they had nothing on the bench. But you have still got to take him off and give him a break.”
Crawley conceded the Rabbitohs were not helped by injuries and suspension to key forwards, but believes Souths need to use Murray more wisely to keep him fresh for the back end of games.
“They were missing Tom Burgess and (Siliva) Havili, but it was clear he needed a break."
A dejected Murray said after the game that his team was hurting after coming so close only to see another premiership chance go begging.
"It doesn't get any easier, coming up short every year," Murray said.
"It probably gets harder, to be honest.
"I don't have much to say, it's pretty disappointing. We knew we would have had to be close to perfect to get them and we fell short."
Souths 'fell apart' in second half against Penrith
Crawley went on to say that Mitchell's lack of impact during the second half of the Panthers game was a direct by-product of Murray's exhaustion.
“He (Murray) needed to be the link, so when Latrell wasn’t getting involved in those sets late in the game it was because Murray wasn’t there.
“Reynolds is not there anymore and Ilias plays right side and pretty much stays there.
“They would be terribly disappointed with how that fell apart because they built a very strong lead, which was potentially match-winning and they fell apart in the second half.
“They did lose it in that three minutes before halftime, but even towards the final 20 minutes there was still time to win that game.
“But Cody Walker dropped off. Latrell Mitchell had dropped off. Something had happened with their psyche. They weren’t ready to win that game.”
While Crawley's fellow NRL 360 panelists agreed that Souths' bench depth ultimately cost them, the show's co-host Braith Anasta says fans should still be optimistic thew Bunnies can end their premiership drought if they can keep the nucleus of their squad together.
“They have got the right team because let’s also remember that the Panthers are going to lose a couple of players next year and a couple of players the year after,” Anasta said.
“Parramatta are losing a couple of players. Souths are going to have that same team and they got close.”
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