SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS - 2009 Season Preview

<p>THERE’S a lot to like about the Bunnies in Season 2009.</p><p> Their team features a good blend of mercurial youth and hard-headed veterans, and will test the top teams provided they play smart as well as entertaining rugby league. </p><p> Their best buy is probably Colin Best; the rangy and fast former Canberra Raider was the Dally M Winger of the Year in 2008 and really knows how to get the ball over the line. Another great buy is Rhys Wesser who’ll provide plenty of game from fullback. Wesser’s arrival allows another try-scoring machine in Nathan Merritt to patrol a wing, forming a potent back three. </p><p> Souths have talented halves, tough forwards and are building towards a culture of success. It would be a Hollywood sort of moment if the Bunnies can reach their first grand final since 1971 and you’ll get about 40/1 from the betting agencies about them winning it. But no-one gave Wests Tigers a hope in 2005. And Hollywood is where one of their owners makes a living. </p><p> In racing tips parlance you would keep them ‘safe’, as they are definitely one of the smokies in ’09. </p><p> <strong>How They’ll Play It</strong></p> Jason Taylor has two excellent halfbacks in 2008 Dally M Rookie of the Year Chris Sandow and experienced glamour boy Craig Wing.</p><p> But who will take the ball one-off the ruck and drive play around the field? Our tip is that both of them will have a go at various times in the game, with Wing standing one side, Sandow the other, offering two options. Jason Taylor could have worse problems. </p><p> Elsewhere, elusive Kiwi hooker Issac Luke will dart from dummy-half and do smart things with the ball.The 21-year-old has a little bit of ‘Bouncing’ Benny Elias about him and can be a game-breaker. </p><p> Also, John Sutton was a City Origin player last year and he will be looking to improve. </p><p> Up front Souths will rely heavily on Roy Asotasi to punch holes in opposition forward packs – but expect under-rated prop Luke Stuart will do plenty of grunt work, also. Add Garret Crossman, the two-time Melbourne Storm grand final squad member returning from Hull KR, and you’ve got some big, fast, tough types in the engine room. </p><p> <strong>Keep An Eye On</strong></p> Chris Sandow’s play lit up the competition last year but Second Season Blues have been a factor for other players, and it will be interesting to see how oppositions try to shut him down.</p><p> A confident, perhaps even cocky player – you have to have a bit about you if you coin yourself the “Aboriginal Allan Langer” – yet one fans love to watch.</p><p> <strong>They’ll Really Miss</strong></p> Dean Widders was so loved by Russell Crowe that the Souths owner publicly declared it on national television. Souths fans also loved the play of this creative ball-playing forward and their team – indeed the NRL – is worse off with him in England. Must it be so?</p><p> <strong>It’s Time To Stand Up</strong></p> Kane Cleal has had an injury-marred past few seasons and returns to the Bunnies where in 2006 he was a cult favourite.</p><p> At his best Cleal gets around the field a little like a cross between his old man Noel and former Bulldogs wild man Geoff Robinson: all flowing locks, crazy beard and straight-forward, hard charges.</p><p> But the 24-year-old one-time Warialda Wombat has yet to reach the heights of either of those players and has plenty to prove in 2009.</p><p> <strong>Coach Watch</strong></p> New boys Colin Best and Rhys Wesser will join Nathan Merritt to form a truly potent back three. With enough ball they could light up the comp.</p><p> <strong>They’re All The Better For</strong></p> Tough one to call. Jason Taylor took the side to the finals in 2007 before they finished a disappointing 14th last year.</p><p> How much patience Souths fans and high-profile senior board members have with Taylor is hard to tell. Does he have another year to “build” a premiership threat? Or is this the team they reckon will take them all the way? If it’s the latter, and the Bunnies are losing more than they win by about June, there will be rumblings for Taylor’s head.</p><p> <strong>Predicted Finish</strong></p> Good times. Around 7th if the stars stay fit and healthy. </p><p> <strong>Under-20s</strong></p> Souths are aiming for top eight this year, a realistic goal given half their squad will return from Season 2008 when they finished a creditable 10th. </p><p> Prop Jacob Nansen will be a powerhouse for the Bunnies, a big unit with a lick of pace who’ll bend holes in opposition defensive lines. </p><p> Captain Jason Clark is a ball-playing lock who’ll tackle all day, while out wide Mal Webster and Kane Morgan are two of the fastest players in the comp. </p><p> And keep an eye on former Dragon Matt Mundine – cousin of a certain former player-come-boxer – he’s a five-eighth with fine hands, vision and organisational skills. </p><p> <strong>New Breed</strong></p> A product of local side Coogee Randwick Wombats (a loyal participant in the fan rallies that saved Souths back at the start of this century) and a regular for Souths Juniors right through the grades, there is no better team captain in the Toyota Cup than Jason Clark.</p><p> Keep an eye out for more on Jason Clark when NRL.com brings you New Breed profiles in the coming weeks.</p>