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Rabbitohs to end Premiership drought?

It was the year when Australia announced the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. Australia's PM was William McMahon and Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water was named Album of the Year. Astronauts drove on the moon in a lunar buggy while The Rolling Stones released Brown Sugar.

Can you guess the year? Yes, 1971.

And you know what else happened 41 years ago? South Sydney won their last premiership with a side that included Eric Simms, John Sattler, George Piggins, John O'Neill, Bob McCarthy, Gary Stevens and the great Ron Coote. They were grand days for the famous Redfern club - they were 'The Pride of the League'.

Premiership success though has been missing ever since. Times have been tough and no-one has heard 'Glory, Glory' being sung in September.

But maybe, just maybe, things are about to change.

I like what I see with the 2012 Rabbitohs. Smart halves, a big pack, a rampaging fullback and some speed out wide. They are the real deal.

Monday night's late and memorable win over the Sydney Roosters also showed Souths have plenty of character and mental steel.

I am not going to sit here and tip the Rabbitohs to break their four-decade drought. But I think they are as good a chance as any to secure the 2012 Telstra Premiership. There is group of five or six sides that can win this year's title - and Souths sit nicely in the middle of that clump.

The big question coming into this season was how young halfback Adam Reynolds would cope with the pressure and physical demands of NRL.

Let's not forget, Reynolds didn't play a minute of football last year through injury yet was suddenly, when Chris Sandow walked away to join Parramatta, thrust into first grade.

It was a big ask for a young player, yet to play in the NRL... and what a job he’s done. Reynolds would have to be firm favourite to claim this year's Dally M rookie of the year.

He has played with confidence and composure far above that of a normal rookie. Yet again on Monday night, Reynolds kept his nerve and scored the match-winning try with just seconds remaining.

People are already touting him as future State of Origin player. That may seem a tad premature but there is no reason why he cannot play rep footy if his learning curve continues to head north.

But South Sydney’s success this year isn't just thanks to Reynolds.

New coach Michael Maguire has given them the structure and discipline missing over the past couple of years. The former Storm assistant came with plenty of wraps, but coaching Souths, and the expectation that comes with it, can soon find someone out that’s not up to the job. Maguire is reveling in it.

His decision to push Greg Inglis back to fullback has definitely been a season-changer. Inglis has been in career-best form and is loving the extra room at fullback.

Big Dave Taylor has been unstoppable at times, while Sam Burgess has been a powerhouse in the middle.

Fringe first graders last year have kicked on, like Chris McQueen, Jason Clark and Dave Tyrrell. They are all playing to their potential. There’s always more than a couple of reasons to a side’s success and that’s true of the Bunnies in 2012. In every good team, there is always a player that pulls it all together and the glue for Souths is Micheal Crocker.

But the Rabbitohs aren't the only club ready to shock the NRL during the finals.

Like South Sydney, Cronulla have failed to experience success for a long time. In fact, the Sharks have not won a title since they entered the old NSWRL competition back in 1967.

I will be honest - I didn't tip Cronulla to make the finals this year, but what a season they are enjoying.

Coach Shane Flanagan has done a remarkable job, squeezing the potential from every player in his squad.

Flanagan's great accomplishment was his recruitment. He bought the likes of Todd Carney, Andrew Fifita, Jeff Robson, Ben Ross, Isaac De Gois and Bryce Gibbs - and each of them have performed.

The bloke that has really impressed me in recent weeks has been Wade Graham. He played five-eighth for the bulk of last year but really looks to have settled into the back-row.

He is physical and aggressive in defence and clever with the ball. And I have admired his leadership in recent weeks with Paul Gallen unavailable through injury.

Jeremy Smith is a key player too. Tough, uncompromising... he is a winner.

I think Cronulla have won four from five matches this year without Gallen - and Smith has been just about the best on the field in all of those games.

He is made for semi-final football, as he proved with the Dragons and the Storm. The Sharks have battled on gamely in recent weeks without both Gallen and Smith and will again this weekend, which will be another test of their resolve.

Both have all but sown up a top eight finish, and can you imagine the party if one of them can finally snap their long, heart-breaking drought.

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Talking about big matches towards the end of the year, Friday night at Brookvale sees Manly take on the Bulldogs in what could be a prelude of just that.

Craig Bellamy said yesterday that the Dogs were the benchmark of the competition, and after winning seven in a row in the manner they have its hard to argue with him.

Manly got them in round eight, but the Dogs are a much more confident outfit three months later. I still think with all players fit the Sea Eagles can defend their title, but they're up against the form team in the competition.

A win for Manly will re-establish their Premiership credentials, while a victory for the Bulldogs will mean Des Hasler can no longer claim his team is ‘flying under the radar’ it will put them right in the middle of Premiership favouritism.

We've marveled at the different ways Hasler's Dogs have torn apart defensive lines, throw in the fact they now have the best defensive record and its little wonder their being labeled the benchmark. There wont be much in this one, however the absence of Brett Stewart might be enough to swing things in favour of Canterbury. The advantage became even more true, when common sense prevailed at Wednesday nights judiciary, finding big Sam Kasiano not guilty of his high tackle charge.

Dessie back to Brooky adds that extra spice for what is one of the must-watch matches so far this season.

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