Season Preview: South Sydney Rabbitohs

THEIR off-season began with a slap, a punch and a sacked coach, but remarkably the 2010 Rabbitohs will take the field as the best side Souths have mustered in more than 20 years. Not since the days when Mario Fenech and Ian Roberts led out one of the competition’s most-feared forward packs have the Bunnies assembled an engine room quite like this. <br><br>Kiwi representatives Roy Asotasi and Eddy Pettybourne and Maroons enforcer Michael Crocker are joined by the game’s top two young forwards – new recruits Sam Burgess and Dave Taylor – in a monster pack choc-full of size and talent.<br><br>Most clubs that go through a close-season controversy carry it with them into the new season; however, South Sydney’s crisis management has been a success. <br><br>David Fa’alogo, who punched coach Jason Taylor in a now-infamous mad-Monday incident last September, was leaving the club anyway – and even though most would agree Taylor was a bit hard done by, he was nonetheless cut loose, ensuring that no-one directly involved in the incident would stay on at Redfern and risk disharmony amongst the playing group. <br><br>So with the appointment of veteran coach John Lang – their football manager last year – Souths have wiped the slate clean and, despite missing the cut last year, they should make the finals this season. <br><br>Their forwards, an exciting backline and significant depth in most positions are their major strengths, while halfback Chris Sandow’s ability to fire consistently appears to be their only questionable quantity.<br><b><br>Their Keys To Success…</b> The quality of the Rabbitohs’ forward pack means they can adopt a very simple game plan for this season. They will look to dominate teams up the middle, and in theory, the points should flow from that. <br><br>Even in the pre-season, coach Lang has shown his intentions by picking as many as four props in his starting side. In the Charity Shield he had Roy Asotasi and Luke Stuart in the front row, but Sam Burgess played lock and Dave Taylor second row. Then consider Queensland rep Ben Ross and the consistent Scott Geddes coming off the bench: this is a forward pack that should dominate most teams.<br>&nbsp;<br>So after the big boppers have got them down the park, it will be up to halves Chris Sandow and John Sutton to wreak havoc. On his day, Sutton is among the most devastating five-eighths in the competition – but this pair needs to be more consistent. <br><br>The big worry for Souths is that an all-star forward pack goes to waste because their halves can’t take advantage. The key for Sandow and Sutton will be to run the ball. Sutton can use his size to great advantage, while Sandow is incredible in broken play when he has the opposition on the back foot. Early ball and kicks to the corner for the likes of Nathan Merritt, Fetuli Talanoa and Rhys Wesser will also be effective.<br><br><b>Expect Plenty From…</b> Dave Taylor. The runaway train was unstoppable in the second half of last year for Brisbane and if he winds up in his debut rounds for Souths, a Queensland Origin jersey will already have his name sewn into the fabric.<br><b><br>They’re Really Going To Miss…</b> Craig Wing will be sorely missed at Redfern, and it’s a shame he never really hit top form there before seeking an early release to Japanese rugby. Issac Luke is a star at hooker, but the Rabbitohs will miss Wing’s x-factor off the bench; a player who could come on and change a game. <br><b><br>It’s Time To Deliver…</b> Chris Sandow needs to aim up. It’s overly harsh to say he failed last season, because he’s a young half, and not many players make an impact at no.7 in their first seasons in the business. Yes, Sandow deserves time and patience – but he needs to at least show he can control the team when the chips are down.<br><br><b>Coach Watch…</b> John Lang assumed control under controversial circumstances following Jason Taylor’s sacking. The former Penrith premiership winner admitted to feeling uncomfortable with his new position at first, but he has quickly warmed to the task. <br><br>There are rumours the Bunnies want Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens at the club, but Lang won’t be particularly worried about that. He enjoyed coaching retirement, and once the blessing of this second stint is over, he’ll accept it and move on.<br><b><br>They’re All The Better For…</b> Recruiting players to Souths used to be a tough gig, but Russell Crowe and Shane Richardson deserve credit for pulling off one of the great recruitment drives in recent times. If you’re looking for forward strength it doesn’t get any better than Sam Burgess, Dave Taylor and Ben Ross.<br><br><b>Predicted Finish…</b> It will be a failed year if Souths don’t make the top eight; they are more than capable of knocking on the door of the top four. Let’s say sixth.<br><br><b>Toyota Cup…</b> Kiwi international David Kidwell put his heart and soul into the red-and-green jersey during his final years in first grade, and he’s been rewarded with the job of under-20s coach. <br><br>Halfback Adam Reynolds is a star and will press for an NRL debut this year. Meanwhile, it’s now or never for five-eighth/lock Matt Mundine – he has been talked up for the past two years but has so far failed to realise his potential.