Captain Greg Inglis’ season-ending injury in Round 1 served as an unfortunate forecast for the events that were to follow for South Sydney: injury, disappointment and sustained periods of overbearing hopelessness made for a rather bleak 2017 season. The struggles both with and without the footy forced an assessment of their team identity, a holdover style that remained after their breakthrough title run back in 2014 that no longer matched their roster or the NRL landscape. The inevitable changes finally occurred, with the Rabbitohs moving on from head coach Michael Maguire in hopes of ushering in a new era. Two seasons without a finals berth and a steady decline since the heights of a premiership — can the Rabbitohs break out of mediocrity and return to the playoff picture?
2017 SNAPSHOT: 12th (9-15); Points For – 464 (11th), Points Against – 564 (12th).
BEST RECRUIT: After another outstanding season where he cemented himself as a fixture in both the Queensland and Australian sides and became the first winger in Origin history to pick up player of the series honours, Dane Gagai moves to Sydney with hopes of continuing his upward trajectory. The Rabbits clearly lacked significant firepower on the edges and their attack failed to convert points close to the line often — Gagai presents a potential fix to their most immediate flaws and some much-needed star power.
Sam Burgess: Great to be back out on the field with the lads. Also cracking to welcome in danegagai to the club,… pic.twitter.com/RGBDqBmi4X
— Rabbitohs News (@SouthsLatest) 11 January 2018
KEY MAN: Between injuries and form slumps, Adam Reynolds struggled to assert himself anywhere near his usual level last year, even his usually brilliant kicking game spluttering at times. Their pack being outplayed most weeks didn’t help the cause, so expect Reynolds to get back to his top-shelf form in 2018.
UNDER THE PUMP: The Burgess twins were in a rut for the majority of 2017, struggling to match their impact from previous seasons or even hold onto the footy in most games (Fun fact: there wasn’t a single Souths game in 2017 that didn’t feature a Burgess twin knock-on – alarming, to say the least). Patience is running thin, so Tom and George need to produce before the criticisms grow too loud.
SELECTION POSER: A pick in this category for the past few years, John Sutton remains one of the lowest-producing players to remain a mainstay in a starting line-up despite poor results. With Cameron Murray impressing in limited time last year, switching him out for Sutton and moving Sam Burgess to an edge (or the front-row) will get more talent on the field. If Sutton feels like low-hanging fruit, Robbie Farah is fair game here too, with Damien Cook the superior player; playing Farah off the bench serves little purpose other than tribute minutes. (And if that feels too easy, how about Greg Inglis! He obviously belongs in the lineup, but his best fullback days are past him — the centres is where you’ll get the most value out of GI).
Bench material? Robbie Farah looking fit as anything and deadly frigging serious about it all at training this week. pic.twitter.com/lXEaeqAyw7
— Bunny Brethren (@BunnyBrethren) 10 January 2018
YOUNG GUN: Souths have looked to breed in plenty of youth over the last couple of seasons, but a familiar face still leads the conversation. It’s easy to forget Alex Johnston is still just 22 years old, having already amassed 84 career starts and an incredible 74 tries in first grade. Among the most established players at his age, Johnston’s form dip in 2016 can be chalked up to playing on the end of a weak attack that failed to provide chances for his potent finishing. Racking up 22 tries from 22 games last year despite playing in just nine wins was quite the achievement.
BREAKOUT SEASON ALERT: This will break the hearts of the Souths faithful, but losing a finger won’t slow down the development of Roosters-bound young gun Angus Crichton, who appears to be on the cusp of stardom. A year developing on the Rabbitohs’ dime will lead to a painful goodbye when he heads to arch-enemy to torture them for the next decade. Enjoy it while it lasts!
First good look at Angus Crichton’s finger he had amputated 3 weeks ago. Could be 2-4 months before he acclimatises/gains maximum grip strength, but would say the fact he has been playing for years with dysfunctional finger (fused at knuckle) does bode well for a quick recovery pic.twitter.com/InmokDqKDl
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) 10 January 2018
THE STAT: Souths ranked bottom-five in tries, run metres, try-assists and line-breaks (and naturally, on the ladder) in 2017. Their offence was a struggle for most of the season, and an improvement across the board will be needed to push for the finals.
COACH’S JOB SECURITY DANGER RATING: Moderate – Anthony Seibold steps into the void left by the departed Michael Maguire, and should be given plenty of time and patience to get comfortable as a first grade coach. Early signs are promising and if he is able to see through his vision onto the field, expect some impressive results early. A lot to like about the rookie coach.
We had @SSFCRABBITOHS head coach, Anthony Seibold, chat to the boys earlier on the show. Head over to our website for the full interview! https://t.co/i0GiNG54Ld #nrl #bigsportsbrekky pic.twitter.com/l8xoz1c506
— Big Sports Breakfast (@BigSportsBrekky) 9 January 2018
THE DRAW: Glass Half Full – As per usual, Souths dominate the primetime schedule with two-thirds of their fixtures in the favourable Thursday, Friday and Saturday night slots. They also have the most full-week turnarounds and finish the season with four of their last six at home.
Glass Half Empty – If the ANZ home advantage wasn’t neutral enough, eight of their twelve home games coming against last year’s top eight.
— Rabbitohs News (@SouthsLatest) 19 October 2017
POSSIBLE LINE-UP TO START 2018:
1 Greg Inglis
2 Alex Johnston
3 Siosifa Talakai
4 Dane Gagai
5 Hymel Hunt
6 Cody Walker
7 Adam Reynolds
8 Zane Musgrove
9 Damien Cook
10 Tom Burgess
11 Angus Crichton
12 John Sutton
13 Sam Burgess
14 Robbie Farah
15 Kyle Turner
16 Cameron Murray
17 George Burgess
WAY-TOO-EARLY FORECAST: Finals pretender, 10-14 range
Working hard. 👊🐇
— South Sydney Rabbitohs 🐰 (@SSFCRABBITOHS) 9 January 2018