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Rabbitohs 2013 Season Preview

Chris Kennedy, NRL.com Fri, Feb 22, 2013 - 11:00 AM
Gains: Jeff Lima (Wigan), Ben Te’o (Broncos), Mitchell Bucket (Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles), Thomas Burgess (Bradford), Bryson Goodwin (Bulldogs), Beau Champion (Titans).

Losses: Eddy Pettybourne (Tigers), Dave Taylor (Titans), Scott Geddes (retirement), James Roberts (released), Adrian Ha’angana (released).

One of the feel-good stories of 2012 was the resurgence of the South Sydney Rabbitohs. The Bunnies had played just a single finals match since their 2002 readmittance to the NRL – a first-week knockout following their seventh-place finish in 2007. But on the back of some strong rookie performances, most notably from young halfback Adam Reynold, the cardinal and myrtle surged to a third-place finish and eventually lost in the grand final qualifier to minor premiers Canterbury.

Fans will be hoping the 2013 squad will be better for the run, rather than succumbing to second-year syndrome. Coach Michael Maguire will need to ensure the likes of Reynolds and Andrew Everingham build on their strong debut seasons. He will also be hoping prized recruit, Brisbane and Queensland utility Ben Te’o, can help fill the sizable gap left by the departing Dave Taylor, as well as Eddy Pettybourne (Tigers) and Scott Geddes (retired).

The squad is further boosted by the return of centre Beau Champion and ’Dogs winger Bryson Goodwin; former Storm and Wigan prop Jeff Lima; and the fourth Burgess brother, George’s twin Tom, from Bradford. We won’t see all four Burgess siblings on the field together any time soon though, with eldest brother Luke ruled out for six months following pre-season shoulder surgery.

Of course Greg Inglis will be again be a key weapon in his second year at fullback. He was a revelation last year, looking fitter than he ever has, and it is he perhaps more than any other player who will determine South Sydney’s fortunes in 2013. If he can match or build on what he did last year, then the Bunnies will be a match for any team on their day.

How They’ll Play It
Souths had some great moments last season but they can’t rest on their laurels if they want to push on one week longer in 2013.

Statistically they weren’t too bad, as you’d expect: fifth best for points scored (22.6 per game) and sixth best for points conceded (18.9 per game). But their 9.1 offloads were the fewest by any side other than the Knights, suggesting there’s scope to be a little more expansive with their second-phase play. With support players like Inglis, Everingham and Nathan Merritt in their ranks, there’s every incentive to pop the ball up whenever possible.

Maguire has shown a preference for rotating his hookers, meaning Issac Luke could continue to see diminished minutes with Nathan Peats sharing the workload – although his furious, high work rate could mean he is even more potent when he is on the field. 

Inglis’ kick returns will continue to ensure every set starts off on the right foot, with Reynolds calmly controlling things from half and John Sutton acting more as a ball-running five-eighth.

Expect HUGE Things From
This will be a big year for Ben Te’o. At 26, the New Zealand-born back-rower should be coming into the best form of his career and as mentioned has some big shoes to fill with Taylor departing for the Titans. Te’o got his first taste of Origin footy last year and he wouldn’t be the first player to grow an extra leg after becoming an Origin player. 
As good as he was last year he played nine of his 21 games off the bench and two more at centre, averaging just 56 minutes per match. Nevertheless he averaged almost 90 metres per game, with 12 line-breaks and 10 tries – but you can expect his work rate and impact to rise with greater involvement at Souths now he’s emerged from the Broncos’ back-row logjam.

Inglis now seems to have a mortgage on the Souths No.1 jersey for as long as he wants it and fans will be hoping for another stellar year from the custodian. His presence should also help generate plenty of competition between the other eight or more players vying for four backline spots including Merritt, Everingham, Matt King, Dylan Farrell, Shaune Corrigan, Fetuli Talanoa, Justin Hunt and the newly arrived Goodwin and Champion.

Bonus Points
It’s no coincidence Souths made a move for former Melbourne enforcer Jeff Lima. He played under Maguire at the Storm for several years before the two linked up again in the UK at Wigan. Maguire clearly rates the Kiwi Test prop’s impact and his addition makes for a packed and potent front-row rotation – so much so that it may push UK international Sam Burgess back into the second row. 

Aside from the other assorted brothers Burgess, Maguire will be hoping to have former Kiwi skipper Roy Asotasi on deck for a full season after his interrupted 2012.

With the likes of Dave Tyrrell and Josh Starling also jostling for forward spots, you can be sure the Rabbitohs’ big men will be causing plenty of headaches for opposition packs this year.

The Question Marks
Can they do it again, or was it a flash in the pan? Plenty of big names have gone down with a bad case of ‘second-year syndrome’, and Adam Reynolds is no longer an unknown. The Bunnies faithful will want him to follow the Daly Cherry-Evans route of proving a first year’s success is no fluke.

But the same question applies to much of the squad. The honeymoon period is over for the new coach, so will ‘Madge’ be able to repeat and build on his successes? Will GI be able to maintain the phenomenal standards he set last year? Will Sam Burgess and Roy Asotasi spend more time on the field than in the casualty ward? Souths need the answers to all these questions to be “yes” to challenge for a title in 2013.

Who Needs To Lift?
Aside from captain Mick Crocker and new recruit Te’o, Souths don’t have a lot of star power in the back row. Chris McQueen is a former centre who started to come of age as a forward at the back end of 2012 but he will need to improve on his 61 metres and 18 tackles per game. Ben Lowe has had a couple of injury-affected seasons and hasn’t been able to regain the form that saw him on the fringe of Origin selection in 2010, averaging just 57 metres and 21 tackles last year. 

With Taylor and Pettybourne no longer in the frame, someone needs to step up and provide the ‘X-factor’ in the back row.

How’s Their Depth?
As mentioned above there are plenty of top-line players vying for spots in the three-quarter line and front row (including two gun hookers). But outside of their best 17, the playmaking and second row stocks look a little thin. The Bunnies can ill afford to lose any of Crocker, Burgess or Te’o for an extended period, while an injury to Reynolds could be disastrous. 

However, Justin Hunt spent plenty of time at halfback in his junior days, while Rabbitohs NYC gun Luke Keary is now contracted in the top grade after setting the under-20s competition alight last year with an amazing 20 tries and 35 try assists. Reynolds and Cherry-Evans before him have shown that youth is no barrier to success in the halves, and Keary may well get a run in the top flight this year.

Dream Team Bankers
Former fantasy no-go Greg Inglis ($399,600) rocketed into contention last season after his shift to fullback saw him get more involved. He has the bonus of being available at both centre and wing/fullback. 

Sam Burgess ($378,900) is another fantasy gun who is a dual-position player at front and second row. However, the stocks of former Dream Team banker Issac Luke ($404,100) have taken a tumble with the emergence of Nathan Peats who could cut into his minutes. 

Ben Te’o ($290,700) could be worth watching, with potentially more minutes on offer than he found at the Broncos.

The Coach
Maguire may be in just his second season as an NRL head coach but he has a strong pedigree, having served under Craig Bellamy at Melbourne during their ‘premiership’ seasons in 2007 and 2009 before winning a title with Wigan in the UK Super League.

UK success is no guarantee of NRL glory, as Brian McLennan found out at the Warriors last year, but ‘Madge’ has started well and seems unfazed by the massive expectations of the Souths faithful.

Under-20s
The biggest news here is the loss of 2012 NYC sensation Luke Keary to the senior squad, along with George Burgess, who averaged 147 metres per game in the NYC in 2012. Despite the pair’s input the junior Bunnies only finished sixth, getting knocked out in the first week of the finals as both the seventh- and eighth-placed finishers scored upset wins.

Jackson Garlick, the son of former Souths captain Sean, returns for his second season of NYC and despite not spending much time on the field last year he will be looking to make an impact. One of the 2012 stars who is still eligible for the youth competition is Tyrone Phillips. The fullback ran for 137 metres per game with 16 line-breaks and eight tries – and a massive 127 tackle-breaks for the season.

Overall the Souths Holden Cup unit have around 10 players with NYC experience but with a couple of stars departing they will need someone else to step up to have a chance at making the finals again.

Predicted Finish
South Sydney are one of the major “what if” teams of 2013. They were a surprise packet last year but it counts for little if they can’t build on that. With the same core of players plus some experience under their belts there’s no reason they can’t shoot for a top-two spot but they will need things to go their way. We can’t help but feel they over-performed slightly in 2012 so don’t be surprised if they come back to the pack a little and land somewhere in the bottom half of the eight. We think sixth to eighth is a fair assessment – but they can do plenty of damage from there.