South Sydney Rabbitohs: Season Review

Regular Season
WINS: 11
LOSSES: 12
DRAWS: 1
POSITION: 10th
HOME RECORD: 5 wins, 7 losses (=13th)
AWAY RECORD: 6 wins, 5 losses, 1 draw (3rd)
 
After Finals
Did Not Qualify
 
BEST WINNING STREAK: 3 (rounds 18-20)
LONGEST LOSING STREAK: 5 (rounds 12-17)
PLAYERS USED: 28 (5 debutants)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: John Sutton
TRIES SCORED: 103 (1st)
TRIES CONCEDED: 100 (=11th)
 
After their horror 2008 season in which they lost their first seven games and 10 of their first 11, 2009 saw quite an improvement for South Sydney. But even with a late surge that saw the Rabbitohs fall just short of a top-eight berth, missing the finals for the second year running can only be described as a failure for a club boasting such a wide array of talent.

Certainly coach Jason Taylor will feel the same – not that he’d be caring having been sacked following a nasty Mad Monday incident. But enough of that for now…

While Souths left their run a few weeks too late, a 41-6 thrashing of minor premiers St George Illawarra in Round 25 confirmed just how rarely Souths lived up to their potential this season.

That they finished just two points out of the eight in 10th spot will serve as little consolation.

Just what conspired to deliver their mid-season collapse remains a mystery. Having kicked off the year with a 52-12 thrashing of arch-rivals the Roosters and backing it up a few weeks later with wins over Newcastle and the Warriors, Souths slumped badly from Round 8 – winning just one game in eight to slump as low as 12th.

They responded in style with impressive wins over Penrith, Brisbane and Manly but then fell 40-10 in their next encounter with the Panthers in Round 24 to bring their season to a shuddering halt.

Such stunning inconsistency is highlighted by the fact that no other side scored more tries that the Rabbitohs in 2009, yet they conceded just three tries less than they scored.

That’s not to say there weren’t positives.

The form of five-eighth John Sutton towards the end of the season was irresistible, centre Beau Champion is developing into a real strike weapon out wide and diminutive winger Nathan Merritt again showed that size doesn’t matter, with 19 tries from 23 appearances.

Where They Excelled… Scoring points was the Rabbitohs’ strong suit – they were almost impossible to hold out when in the mood. Souths topped 30 points in a game on seven separate occasions and scored 20 points or more 14 times.

Their 103 tries was the most in the NRL ahead of the Wests Tigers (102), the Bulldogs (98), North Queensland (98) and Manly (97).

Where They Struggled… As good as they were with the ball in hand, the Rabbitohs struggled to hold out their opposition and conceded a whopping 100 tries.

Only the Roosters, Warriors and Panthers let in more.

Such inconsistency was highlighted by a 40-10 loss to Penrith in Round 25 which was followed by a 41-6 win over the Dragons a week later – a stunning 65-point turnaround.

Missing In Action… A season-ending knee injury suffered by captain Roy Asotasi in Souths’ impressive 36-22 win over Manly in Round 22 proved to be a huge blow to the club’s finals hopes.

Asotasi had been the Rabbitohs’ best player during their run of three consecutive wins that had kept their season alive, but they lost their next two without him to crash out of finals contention.

Turning Point… South Sydney’s season went AWOL from Round 12 when they crashed to a demoralising 34-18 loss at home against Canberra.

Sitting on the fringe of the top eight, they then proceeded to lose four more in a row against North Queensland, Melbourne, Newcastle and Wests Tigers to fall right away from the field.

It was always going to be a long way back from there.

Best Games… The Rabbitohs’ Round 25 thrashing of competition leaders St George Illawarra was as unexpected as it was brilliant. In fact, how a side that can annihilate the premiership favourites could find themselves so far down the ladder is inexplicable.

Led by five-eighth John Sutton, who scored two tries and had a hand in almost everything South Sydney produced, they crossed three times in the first half to lead 19-6 at the break and then ran in four more in the second half in a performance that had their fans cheering with joy but scratching their heads.

Worst Games… Ill-fated coach Jason Taylor openly lamented the timing of his side’s thrashing of the Dragons – the win coming just a week after their season ended with an embarrassing 40-10 loss to Penrith.

Still in finals contention at the time, the Rabbitohs produced a horrible display when it mattered most, falling away in the second half by conceding 22 unanswered points having trailed by just two with 30 minutes gone.

Hold Your Head High… Luke Stuart. He may not receive the plaudits of his more high-profile team-mates but nobody was more consistent in 2009 than the workhorse front-rower.

Stuart led by example for the Bunnies, topping both the tackle count with 30 per game (729) and the metre-count with 111 per game (2671).

Chief executive Shane Richardson says… “We really weren’t playing well right from the start of the season. We had a big win over the Roosters which I think glossed over some of the problems we had and it took a while to adjust after that. But we finished the season strong.

“The bottom line for our team is that we know where our future is – guys like Chris Sandow, John Sutton, Issac Luke, Rhys Wesser and Nathan Merritt. The guys showed a lot of character at the end of the season with wins over Manly and St George Illawarra.”

Conclusion… South Sydney now find themselves at a cross-roads. Two years of disappointment have worn thin at a club boasting plenty of on-field talent but few results.

There have certainly been glimpses of what they are capable of but the Rabbitohs would have headed into 2009 expecting to reach the finals. And they fell short.

With Taylor gone, replaced by experienced and wily premiership winner John Lang, expect the red and green to be more disciplined in 2010.

Given that major staff change, and their underperforming deeds of the past two years, expect 2010 to be do-or-die for a number of players.