South Sydney Rabbitohs – 2014 NRL Preview

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The very promising 2013 NRL season ended in a disastrous manner for the South Sydney Rabbitohs? Will they able to make the Grand Final in 2014, following back to back preliminary final defeats? Rugby league writer Daniel Boss provides his thoughts below.

2013 Review

For the second straight season, South Sydney was eliminated in the preliminary final. However, the loss in 2013 hurt more as they gave up an early 14-0 lead against Manly. For most of the season, the Rabbits were atop the competition ladder but gave up the minor premiership as they only won four of their final eight games, from rounds 19 to 26. Again, the goal will be the premiership for this side, which will be their first since 1971. This just may be their best shot at getting to the promised land.

Statistically, Souths were very good in 2013 as they were one of the best teams in the league in both attack and defence. In attack, they scored almost four points more per game than the average points scored in a game. They also improved in attack from 2012, as they scored over a point more per game in 2013 than they did in 2012. In defence, the Rabbits conceded over four and a half points less per game than the 2013 season average. This was also an improvement on their 2012 defence, as they conceded over a point less per game in 2013 than they did the year before. The main focus for Souths in terms of player movement was to maintain their current squad as much as possible, in order to maintain the high quality of the squad.

Outside Backs

In the back three, Greg Inglis and Nathan Merritt have two positions, fullback and one wing respectively, sewn up. Both are great players and deserve to have their positions in the team secured. The departures of Matt King, Dylan Farrell, Andrew Everingham and Justin Hunt have opened up a position on one wing. The only recognised wingers in the squad are signings Joel Reddy and Lote Tuqiri. Reddy is a very underrated player, who can also cover in the centres while Tuqiri is well past his best but he may find better form by playing in a stronger team. In the centres, incumbents Bryson Goodwin and Dylan Walker are still with the club and should be the starting centres if the whole squad is available. However, Walker may be forced to play in the halves following the injury to Luke Keary. The other recognised options in the centres are Reddy and Beau Champion, both who are experienced first grade players.

Halves

With the likely move of John Sutton to the forward pack, the starting halves combination was to be Adam Reynolds at half-back and Luke Keary at five-eight. Reynolds is a steady influence, who provides a very strong kicking game, while Keary has a bit of x-factor about him as he is a good playmaker and possesses a strong running game. The loss of Keary to injury for the first half of the season is a huge blow. Dylan Walker and Sutton are both able to cover for this injury. However, I believe that Souths need Keary fit if they are to give themselves the best opportunity to challenge for the premiership.

Front Row

At hooker, the Rabbits have lost Nathan Peats which means that the only recognised hooker in the squad is Isaac Luke. This should result in Luke playing a lot more game time than he has in the past two seasons. In my opinion, this is a good thing as he is a very good player who is at his best late in each half when the opposition defence is tired. In the past, he has shown that he can play 80 minutes so I can’t seeing it being as issue for him this season. At prop, Souths has lost quite a lot of depth following the departures of Roy Asotasi, Jeff Lima and Josh Starling. It is unsure as to who will start at prop but with the move of John Sutton to the forwards, the likely starting props will be Sam and Luke Burgess. Luke is the least dynamic of the four brothers but is still a solid prop that provides a good go forward. Sam on the other hand will be looking to leave the NRL with a premiership and I am expecting a huge season from him. The other recognised props in the squad are George Burgess, Thomas Burgess and Dave Tyrrell. George Burgess will be looking to improve on his strong debut season and is one of the better impact players in the competition.

Back Row

As mentioned, the big change in the back row is the move of John Sutton to the back row from the halves. As a result, the starting back row consists of Sutton at lock, with Chris McQueen and Ben Te’o in the second row. Sutton is a strong ball player who also possesses good ball playing ability, while McQueen and Te’o are good wide running back rowers who also have high work rates in defence. Following the retirement of Michel Croker, there is less depth in the back row. Players who can cover in the back row if needed include Sam Burgess, Ben Lowe and Jason Clark. Lowe is a good player who has come close to Origin selection in years past.

Bench

Last season, Souths played a hooker and three other forwards on the bench and occasionally a back, a hooker and two other forwards when Keary was in the squad. Following the departure of Nathan Peats and Keary’s starting team role when he returns from injury, I am expecting Souths to play four forwards on the bench, consisting of front and back rowers. I would think that the Rabbits would like to have all four Burgess brothers in the side, so this means that they could have as many as four props on the bench.

Coach

Michael Maguire has proven to be one of the best coaches in the NRL by turning the Rabbits from under-achievers into premiership contenders. However, the stumbling block for Maguire in his first two seasons in the NRL has been at the preliminary final stage. In both defeats, the Rabbits have lacked a Plan B after they lost Reynolds to injury in 2012 and after Manly figured out how to defend against their big set play in 2013. If Maguire instils the confidence in the squad to move away from their structured style when it isn’t working will be a key to the team’s success in 2014.

Best squad

  1. Greg Inglis
  2. Nathan Merritt
  3. Bryson Goodwin
  4. Dylan Walker
  5. Joel Reddy
  6. Luke Keary
  7. Adam Reynolds
  8. Sam Burgess
  9. Isaac Luke
  10. Luke Burgess
  11. Chris McQueen
  12. Ben Te’o
  13. John Sutton
  14. Dave Tyrrell
  15. Thomas Burgess
  16. Ben Lowe
  17. George Burgess

Prediction

2nd. Souths have one of the strongest squads in the league and should be a strong contender to the title in 2014. If they can be at full strength and in form in the back end of the season, then they will have a great chance to win it all. The key here is Luke Keary. His absence due to injury is a big blow, as he was expected to provide a different point of attack that the side has lacked in the past couple of seasons. If he can be anywhere near his best when he gets back from injury, then they will greatly benefit. If not, then the Rabbits might have a similar end to the 2014 season than they did in the past two seasons.

2014 Ladder Prediction

  1. South Sydney Rabbitohs
  2. Canterbury Bulldogs
  3. Manly Sea Eagles
  4. Melbourne Storm
  5. Penrith Panthers
  6. Newcastle Knights
  7. North Queensland Cowboys
  8. Cronulla Sharks
  9. Gold Coast Titans
  10. St George Illawarra Dragons
  11. Brisbane Broncos
  12. New Zealand Warriors
  13. Wests Tigers
  14. Parramatta Eels
  15. Canberra Raiders
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