Dan Walsh, Staff Writer, NRL.com
There are still a few pieces of the puzzle to fit into place, but with the majority of their stars back on the paddock the Rabbitohs are set to re-ignite a premiership campaign that has been dampened by a winless streak that stretches back beyond Origin II.
Off the back of their second bye for 2014, the Rabbitohs take on the Eels on Friday night not having tasted victory since a 32-10 defeat of the Tigers in Round 14, and are staring down what could be a third consecutive loss for the first time this year.
Aiding the Bunnies' cause is a casualty ward that has finally taken down the 'no vacancy' sign, with young guns Dylan Walker, Luke Keary, George Burgess and Kirisome Auva'a all late additions to the line-up that went down to the Titans a fortnight ago.
With the quartet all having trained strongly during the Rabbitohs' week off and Queensland superstar Greg Inglis also returning refreshed by a post-Origin break, only the absence of Maroons forwards Ben Te'o (one-week suspension) and Chris McQueen (still a few weeks away with syndesmosis) is preventing Michael Maguire from naming a full-strength side for the club's first visit to Pirtek Stadium since 2007.
Veteran centre Joel Reddy, who is also a chance of returning from a quadriceps injury having been named on an extended bench, says that with a near fully fit playing squad there is no better time for the Rabbitohs to make a statement about their premiership credentials.
"Two thirds of the season are gone now... there's no more byes, no more Origin, there's eight weeks to go in the competition and it starts this weekend for us," says Reddy.
"There's a few guys coming back, there's some healthy competition for spots which is good. The guys are pretty competitive at training every day so whatever team Michael Maguire picks, they have to perform to get a run next week."
Second-rower Kyle Turner, who returns to the pack having made a fair fist of covering for the absence of Walker in the backline in recent weeks, agrees that the Rabbitohs can ill-afford another slip-up with just two points separating his fourth placed side, and the Eels, who currently sit in 11th.
"The ladder is really tight and if we lose this one we're out of the top four, and possibly the top eight," says Turner.
"We haven't played our best games the last two weeks before the bye, so we're looking to get back on top of the little things and get back to where we were before the first bye."
The Eels will welcome back Blues fullback Jarryd Hayne after he was rested from their woeful last-start 48-0 thrashing at the hands of the Warriors last Saturday, setting up a mouth-watering clash of the custodians with Inglis, who will wear the red and green's No.16 jersey in honour of injured Knights forward Alex McKinnon.
Reddy admitted the return of arguably the most dangerous attacking player in the competition looms as the Rabbitohs' biggest challenge as they kick off the NRL's RiseForAlex Round.
"Obviously Jarryd lifts the Eels and makes players around him even better," says Reddy, who played 90 games for Parramatta before joining the Rabbitohs this year via two seasons with the Tigers.
"They probably struggle a little bit without him, but they have him back now and they have been playing well at home. He's definitely going to be a focus.
"They’ve been playing some good footy and they like to throw the ball around a bit and they have superstars in the making.
"We just have to make sure we perform to our best and we should take of that."