A foundation team with one of the richest histories in the game, the cardinal and myrtle of the South Sydney Rabbitohs resonates with Australian rugby league. Blessed with numerous legendary players and premierships, 2017 shapes as an important year for both the team and coach Michael Maguire. Since their premiership win in 2014, Souths fans will tell you that their side has struggled since then and been unable to perform consistently. Is 2017 the year for them to turn things around?
A key factor for the Bunnies will be the dynamics between their halves. In their own right, Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker are gifted players but there has been some collusion when it comes to who takes more ownership. Traditionally, Souths setup is one built upon defence, hard work and execution, areas that have been lacking in the past. The halves play a big role in the execution stakes and Reynolds and Walker have two very distinct styles of play.
Walker, as a runner, takes the line on with acceleration and often comes out the other side to make the breaks. Therein lies his major strength in the game, a strength that sees him among the top when it comes to breaks made by halves. Conversely, for Reynolds, whilst he can also be a runner of the football, he is at times a bit hesitant to do so – Souths fans will know this well – due to prior injuries to his knee.
What he lacks in running less, however, Reynolds makes up for with a pinpoint kicking game – long and short. Often regarded as one of the best general kickers in the game, Reynolds gives his side the advantage and metres required with the boot, a valuable asset in the world of rugby league. If the two of them can gel and mesh together whilst excelling at their unique halves skills, they can lay the killer blow in the attacking zone for Souths when it matters.
The forward pack is also an interesting proposition for Souths. With many disappointed in the form of the Burgess twins in recent years, they have to step up their game or risk losing their spots in the side. As to which one starts, some believe Thomas should get the nod whilst others believe George should get it, hoping he gets back to his 2014 form. There is plenty of pressure on he and other Bunnies forwards to perform with the emergence of players such as Zane Musgrove, Cameron Murray and Angus Crichton, all of whom are stating their claims for regular first-grade spots and opportunities. The pressure is on the Burgess brothers and should they not perform, they may find their spots in jeopardy for both the short and long-term.
The final point to take out of the Bunnies 2017 roster is their back-line. It’s safe to say that Greg Inglis and most likely Alex Johnston are certainties to be picked. The other positions are somewhat up for grabs, even more so with the injury sustained by Aaron Gray. Bryson Goodwin, you would imagine, gets the nod somewhere given his experience and leadership but the overall make-up of the back-line would be quite iffy. With several youngsters patiently waiting including the trio of recruits George Jennings, Tyrell Fuimaono and Braidon Burns, they all have a chance to stake their claim for a vacant spot. The question is, though, are they ready for that level and can they perform consistently to hold down a spot?
If the Bunnies can recapture their 2014 form, gel with their new recruits and perform well, anything is possible. They have an able roster to challenge the top sides but they will need all their key plaeyrs to step up at the crucial moments if they are going to emulate that 2014 success. Easier said than done due to the nature of the competition itself and the strength of their opponents, the young and the old, and the new and the veterans, all need to make their mark. If even one aspect is lacking, it may serve as a detriment to their team and thus their success. In the end, the man that looms as their key is half Adam Reynolds.
Best Buy: Becoming more of a front-rower in recent times, Robbie Rochow is a handy addition for a Souths forward pack that needed a bit of defensive prowess. Whilst not as flashy in attack as some Knights fans wanted him to be, Rochow, now at the Bunnies, as the defensive starch needed to hold down the middle of the field alongside the likes of Sam Burgess. His versatility may end up proving handy if injuries strike but it will be his leadership that will also be an important factor. With many young forwards at the club and coming through the ranks, by leading from the front and setting an example for them, his guidance will be crucial. He may not be a superstar but his presence and performances are important for the younger brigade.
Best Young Talent: Whilst he may not start in first-grade from the get-go, one player that Souths fans rate highly is lock forward Cam Murray. Rated highly by Souths fans, Murray has performed well at both the Holden Cup level and the NSW Cup level, staking his claims for a regular first-grade spot. With players currently in front of him, he might be just an injury or two away from getting an opportunity. A hard-working, hard-running and hard-hitting forward, Murray is a player that can set the tone and make consistent impact in the attacking department. Often a handle to bring down and tackle, he looms as a genuine attacking depth option if the club need to call upon someone to step up to the plate.
2016 gains: Braidon Burns, Anthony Cherrington, Robbie Farah, Tyrell Fuimaono, Robert Jennings, Luke Kelly, Robbie Rochow & Connor Tracey.
Our predicted Souths line-up at full strength is:
1. Greg Inglis
2. Alex Johnston
3. Hymel Hunt
4. Bryson Goodwin
5. Aaron Gray
6. Cody Walker
7. Adam Reynolds
8. George Burgess
9. Robbie Farah
10. Robbie Rochow
11. Angus Crichton
12. John Sutton
13. Sam Burgess
14. Zane Musgrove
15. Thomas Burgess
16. Damien Cook
17. Jason Clark