Mid-Season Review: South Sydney Rabbitohs

Position after 13 rounds: 3rd
Wins: 7
Losses: 5
Byes: 1
Points: 16
Differential: 101


With great power comes great responsibility, and South Sydney are beginning to take full advantage of the grunt that is coming from a much-vaunted forward pack. The signings of English international Sam Burgess and Queensland Origin representative Dave Taylor gave the Rabbitohs’ pack a decidedly premiership-winning look – but they were given a lesson in how much reputations count for in Round 1 when the Roosters exacted some revenge for the walloping they received in the 2009 season-opener with a comprehensive 36-10 thumping.

There is no question that since that day the Rabbitohs’ pack has confirmed itself as one of the powerhouses of the competition. Souths make more metres than any other team (1,403 metres) and also lead the competition in tries and line-breaks, but there are deficiencies.

They make more errors than any other team (13.8 per game) and are third-last when it comes to offloads conceded, indicating that they are not getting effective numbers into the tackle.

Are Things Going To Plan? Prior to the Round 13 clash with the Cowboys John Lang told NRL.com that his assessment of their position on the ladder would depend on that result. So, after the 32-4 thumping that rocketed them up into third position, it is safe to assume the coach is well pleased with how his team has come together.

But before Rabbitohs hysteria kicks in, it is important to ask just how their season to date should be evaluated. Do we praise the type of football they have displayed in patches against the Bulldogs, Canberra, Tigers and the Cowboys, or lament the sluggish efforts against the likes of Manly, Parramatta and the Roosters?

There’s no question that when halves Chris Sandow and John Sutton click into action behind a pack that continues to roll forward, the Rabbitohs look like a team that can go deep into September. But that only happens every second week.

The criticism that Souths are unable to tough out a win remains valid, and until they can prove otherwise, the top teams in the competition will always fancy their chances.

Injury Front… Besides a week where Junior Vaivai came in for Colin Best, the South Sydney backline has remained injury-free but the forwards have had a rotating production line.

Michael Crocker has played just one game, Eddy Pettybourne broke his jaw in Round 1, Dave Tyrrell suffered a badly fractured cheekbone against the Sharks in Round 3 and inspirational captain Roy Asotasi has battled knee and shoulder injuries that sidelined him for four games thus far.

There have been two further setbacks recently, with Ben Ross denied clearance to resume playing with his neck injury, while Scott Geddes’ return to the best form of his career suffered a cruel blow with a fractured kneecap against the Cowboys that will rule him out until at least the finals.

If Only… The Rabbitohs had been able to close out games against the Titans and the Warriors. They seemed on track to knock over the Gold Coast but conceded a penalty on full-time that levelled the scores, and then a Scott Prince field goal broke red and green hearts.

Trying to back up their 50-10 thumping of the Wests Tigers, Souths conceded three tries either side of half-time against the Warriors, then squandered numerous opportunities to win in the dying stages with poor handling in admittedly difficult conditions in Auckland.

With those two wins Souths fans could legitimately have been eyeing off a top-4 finish.

Who’s Flying… Issac Luke has not only been South Sydney’s best performer in the first half of 2010, he has been one of the competition’s most outstanding players and a genuine contender for Dally M Player of the Year honours.

Given the opportunity to play 80 minutes every week by new coach John Lang, Luke has proven devastating in the middle of the ruck and leads all hookers in tries (six), goals (38), line-breaks (nine), line-break assists (six), total runs (169), average runs (14.1), total metres (1,600), average metres (133.3), offloads (18) and tackle-breaks (63).

He is as important to this South Sydney team as Andrew Johns was to Newcastle and Darren Lockyer is to Brisbane.

Needs To Lift… John Sutton is by and large the barometer by which South Sydney is measured. A stronger start to the season would have put him in the frame for State of Origin and in recent weeks he has shown more of the dynamic form that makes him a match-winner.

He leads all five-eighths in line break assists (11, along with Brett Finch) and his towering torpedo bombs strike terror into all fullbacks.

If he can impose his 190cm, 100-kilogram frame on each game for 80 minutes at a time, Souths are genuine premiership threats.

Coach John Lang tells NRL.com: “We’ve shown ourselves that we can score points and shown that we can defend our line for long periods but we have to do it consistently. It’s hard to be consistent from week to week, there are a number of different challenges and it’s a tough game. It’s tough.

“Rugby league is such a tough sport that it’s hard to get up every week. No-one can be up all the time mentally but you have to get to that stage where you can at least put in a good tradesman-like job every weekend, and I think that’s what teams like the Dragons and the Storm are good at. That’s what we have got to achieve if we are going to push up into the top echelon of teams.”

Predicted Finish…
Souths are in a position to make a real run but have to face both the Dragons and Storm twice in the second half of the season, games that will determine their status come September. We’ll say sixth.

Under-20s… Still somewhat plagued by a propensity to switch off during games, but a respect for new coach David Kidwell has helped to shape a much more consistent outfit that shares the competition lead at the halfway mark.

They have claimed the scalps of two of the competition heavyweights in Manly and North Queensland, largely due to the work of halves Adam Reynolds and Matt Mundine. Captain Nathan Peats, Junior Vaivai and Josh Mansour have also been strong.