Nigel Wall,, NRL.com
The great under-achievers over the past decade finally lived up to their immense potential this season. Can the Rabbitohs remain a force in the NRL in 2013?
Strengths: On paper Ben Te’o may be the Rabbitohs’ big-name signing for 2013 but ex-Storm enforcer Jeff Lima’s recruitment could prove one of the masterstrokes of the new season. Of course, Lima knows coach Michael Maguire from his ‘premiership’ winning days at the Storm in 2007 and 2009 (when ‘Madge’ was assistant coach) and also at Wigan during the second year of Maguire’s tenure there in 2011. Clearly they have an affinity and Lima’s versatility – he can start games in the front row or be used as an impact player from the bench – will harden the Souths pack.
Meanwhile Te’o is a smart pick-up to replace the Titans-bound David Taylor. Te’o is an aggressive second-rower with a chunk of good skills; importantly he is a more consistent contributor than Taylor, who tends to make an impact in games in waves.
The closing six weeks of the 2012 season revealed the Issac Luke/Nathan Peats hooker rotation to be one of the best tag-teams in the league. In Luke the Rabbitohs have arguably the best dummy-half runner/offloader in the NRL (Souths tallied the most tries from dummy-half and the second-most metres from the ruck), while Peats’ organisation is the perfect fillip for his outside men when Luke is off the park. Luke may not like it but chances are Souths will perform to their best if the duo shares the No.9 duties.
Of course then there’s the ‘GI’ factor – fans no doubt can’t wait to see how much improvement Greg Inglis can make in the No.1 jersey after stunning the league from the back in 2012. Not that he needs to. Still, if Inglis makes even a smidgeon of improvement he’ll be top-three come final Dally M calculations.
Last, Russell Crowe’s impending exit from the cardinal and myrtle should not be underestimated. If the coach and players can harness the emotion of the occasion it may just be the catalyst to the pride of the league’s greatest year.
Weaknesses: Last season Souths assembled a fearsome, cohesive and consistent pack that drew plaudits from even the toughest critics. So it’s a shame they’ll need to rebuild their unit to a degree given the departures of Dave Taylor and Eddy Pettybourne. Taylor’s crunching charges and offloading on the edge, as well as his ad-lib playmaking (grubber-kicking into the in-goal for his wingers? Please…) will be sorely missed; as too will Pettybourne’s in-your-face defence and cart-ups.
It will be interesting to gauge Issac Luke’s attitude should he average fewer minutes of game time than he desires. In the past Luke has made it no secret he wants to be an 80-minute player. He and coach Maguire had a few hiccups heading into the back-end of 2012 when Luke’s application dipped. They need the Kiwi on the same page if they are to go all the way to the GF.
The pressure will be on halfback Adam Reynolds after his stellar rookie season. Although Reynolds showed great vision and he still had difficulty finding open space with his clearing kicks. In fact, their 45 per cent success rate was the second worst in the league and a long way off the benchmark 60 per cent set by premiers Melbourne. It left the Rabbitohs’ defensive line with little time to prepare for opposition kick-returns – you can bet that statistic is at the top of coach Maguire’s fix-it list.
Last, Sam Burgess needs to wear a piece of string around his little finger to remind him the ARL Commission has banned shoulder charges. With heavy penalties looming for transgressors, Souths can’t afford Burgess to have a brain snap. They need him on the park all season.