Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 12: South Sydney Rabbitohs

Whilst they may head into the season as reigning premiers, the chance to go back-to-back will not be an easy one for the South Sydney Rabbitohs, given the multitude of quality sides in the NRL. The side have spades of belief in themselves, though, and with the talent at their disposal, the club will back their abilities to succeed once again in 2015 and capture a second successive premiership, a feat not done in some time.

Off the bat, the one issue with the Souths side that remains on everyone’s mind is the lack of Sam Burgess. An inspirational player for the club over the years, he cemented his spot as an elite player, often single-handedly changing the momentum of a game or giving Souths the opportunity to get back into a game that seemed lost. The impact he provided the club both in the back-row and front-row had opposition teams quivering in their boots, as he bulldozed defenders, offloaded at will and scored more tries than you would expect to see from a forward. His loss leaves a big hole in the Souths forward pack with no other player quite like him in any sense, so replacing him with an active member of the roster is not easy.

With several roster changes in the Souths back-line as well as the indefinite suspension of Kirisome Auva’a, there is a chance that some of those spots open up for young, emerging players. Of course, there is also the chance that veteran players at the club will get an opportunity and that makes the decision even harder for coach Michael Maguire. Although Maguire has shown that he has no hesitation to play youngsters and nurture them through first-grade, the situation itself will determine exactly who gets the nod. If you, the fan, were the coach of Souths, would you pick a young, up-and-comer or would you go with the veteran that has the experience required? Tough question, isn’t it?

Going back-to-back is never easy and that will be the challenge for Souths. With several sides improving their rosters and thus bringing the competition closer together and making it more even, the pressure is on the Bunnies to produce once again and capture their 2nd straight premiership. They certainly have the roster do so with the likes of boom halfback Adam Reynolds, representative fullback Greg Inglis and the remaining Burgess brothers George and Tom, who both add starch and punch to their pack but the consistency will be the key aspect. The elite players at their disposal coupled with one of the best young coaches in the game in Michael Maguire means that Souths have a great chance to go back-to-back and for their fans, they hope that is the case.

For the first time in some years at Souths, John Sutton is unlikely to be playing five-eighth. Bunnies fans have become accustomed to seeing Sutton partner Reynolds in the halves but with the recent emergence of talented half Luke Keary, those dynamics are set to change heading into the 2015 season. Keary burst onto the scene firstly as an interchange player off the bench, before being given constant opportunities by coach Maguire and making the most of them throughout his career so far. As a result, it would appear that Keary will be rewarded for making his mark quickly – team lists on Tuesday will confirm that for sure – and should it be the case, it will cap off a remarkable rise for the talented half. Knowing what he is capable of, the Souths fans will be hopeful that he can form a solid partnership with Reynolds that will help the club win as many games as possible across the season.

Ultimately, despite the loss of Burgess, Souths still have a very good side and yet again, you would expect to see them in the top 4. And even despite the pressure they may face as a result of being reigning premiers, they were well equipped to handle it accordingly and play to their potential.

Best buy: With some crucial forward depth having left, signing a player like Glenn Stewart was a huge boost for the Bunnies and their chances to go back-to-back. Although he spent most of 2014 injured, Stewart’s reputation has an elite ball-playing lock over the years has him pencilled in as a starter for the Bunnies side. Similar to Sutton in that sense but at the same time, very different, Stewart can offer some direction and ball-playing ability to the Bunnies pack, especially since the departure of Sam Burgess. With Stewart at lock, it can allow new team-mate John Sutton to move onto the fringes – given his running game and style – leaving Stewart to focus on the bulk of the additional ball-playing skills and to support the halves in that regard. With that injury now behind him, Stewart is hopeful he can have some good years with the Bunnies and Souths fans are hopeful that he can have a solid stint with their club.

Most Promising Talent: Rarely does a player slot into a team and offer impact straight away but that is exactly what Chris Grevsmuhl did. Biding his time as he waited for an opportunity, Grevsmuhl was given that chance at the Auckland Nines, in the Charity Shield and in the recent World Club series and he certainly made the most of it. He may not be the biggest forward but it is his heart and tenacity that saw him rewarded with continued spots in pre-season, to the point where he looms as a likely contender to play a part off the Souths bench come Rd 1. On numerous occasions, he saved Souths skin this pre-season and worked hard to get his game in order to be given a shot and considered for a potential Rd 1 berth. With options limited at his former club, the North Queensland Cowboys, it would seem that the hard work Grevsmuhl has put in and the patient recovery from injury, has turned him into a better player and person and as a result, a chance is set to come his way.

2015 Gains: Tim Grant (Penrith Panthers), Sione Masima (Cronulla Sharks), Daryl Millard (Catalan Dragons, Scott Sorensen (Cronulla Sharks), Glenn Stewart (Manly Sea Eagles) & Cody Walker (Melbourne Storm).

Our predicted line-up:

1. Greg Inglis (C)
2. Alex Johnston
3. Dylan Walker
4. Aaron Gray
5. Joel Reddy
6. Luke Keary
7. Adam Reynolds
8. George Burgess
9. Issac Luke
10. Tim Grant
11. Kyle Turner
12. John Sutton
13. Glenn Stewart

14. Dave Tyrrell
15. Jason Clark
16. Thomas Burgess
17. Chris Grevsmuhl

Coach: Michael Maguire.

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