2010 SEASON REVIEW: South Sydney Rabbitohs

Wins: 11
Losses: 13
Position: 9th
Home Record: 8 wins, 4 losses (Equal 5th)
Away Record: 3 wins, 9 losses (Equal 14th)
Best Winning Streak: 3 (Rounds 3-5) Equal 12th
Longest Losing Streak: 2 (Rounds 1-2, 14-15, 18-19, 23-24) Equal 1st
Players Used: 28
Player of the Year: Yet to be announced.
Tries Scored: 104 (2nd)
Tries Conceded: 98 (13th)

Touted as potential top-four finishers at season’s opening on the back of a star-studded forward pack, South Sydney’s potential was only reached sporadically, evidenced by their respective winning and losing streaks. Just when they seemed to have found their rhythm, they’d drop their bundle, and when they looked as though they were on the slide they’d somehow find a way to win.

Injuries unquestionably played their part, particularly in the forwards where Issac Luke, Roy Asotasi, David Taylor, Ben Lowe, Michael Crocker, Luke Stuart, Scott Geddes, Eddy Pettybourne, Dave Tyrrell, Jason Clark and Beau Falloon all spent significant periods on the sideline.

Excuses are easily found but it is attitude where South Sydney needs most work in the off-season. Not since 2007 have they shown the steely resolve in defence needed to play football in September and without a greater application to the tough aspects of the game their fans will continue to be disappointed. Only Penrith scored more tries than the Rabbitohs in the regular season, but a fourth-worst defence and appalling away record again left them sitting on the outside of the semi-finals looking in.

Where They Excelled … Scoring tries – and plenty of them. At the halfway point of the season the Rabbitohs had two of the top six try-scorers in the competition in Beau Champion and Nathan Merritt, and Fetuli Talanoa also racked up 13 for the year. Issac Luke (128) and Chris Sandow (116) broke through the 100-point barrier for the season and almost every statistic on the attacking side of the ledger points to a positive season.

They had more line-breaks per game than any other team and in Issac Luke they had a superstar capable of changing matches in an instant. Regularly playing 80 minutes a game for the first time in his career, Luke was among the leading contenders for Dally M Player of the Year honours before dislocating his shoulder in a training mishap on June 29.

In terms of stats among hookers, Luke scored more tries (9), kicked more goals (44) and made more metres per game (130.5), more line-breaks (13), more runs (255), more offloads (34) and more tackle-breaks (95) than any other hooker in the NRL.

Where They Struggled … In one of the tightest competitions in memory, consistency was a problem for most teams, and South Sydney were no different. Attitude in defence was also a major deficiency, particularly with the losses of workhorses such as Luke Stuart, Ben Lowe and Michael Crocker.

Twice the Rabbitohs missed 60 tackles in a match and their defensive stats are like a script from a coach’s worst horror movie: Points conceded per match (ranked fourth worst), line-breaks conceded (fourth most), offloads conceded (third most) and missed tackles (most, with 40.1 per match) all massive concerns for coach John Lang.

Whether it’s attitude or technique, South Sydney cannot hope to be a premiership contender while they continue to leak so many easy points.

Turning point … Without wanting to labour the point, losing Issac Luke at a crucial time of the season sucked most of the Rabbitohs’ momentum dry. Replacement Beau Falloon did an admirable job before he too was injured but Luke is now one of the premier players in the NRL and it has been proven time and again that it is extremely tough to win NRL games with your best player on the sideline. The week after Luke’s injury the Rabbitohs were run down by the Roosters and then suffered the same fate to the Dragons. In low-scoring affairs, the attacking spark of Luke could well have proven the difference.

Best games … The most complete performance of the year was the 38-16 dismantling of the Bulldogs in Round 4 but for two completely contrasting reasons the Rabbitohs’ two best games were their two clashes with the Wests Tigers. In Round 10, South Sydney took full advantage of a woeful Tigers in chalking up a 50-10 scoreline, the first time in the club’s history that they had scored 50 points at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Then, with their season on the line in Round 22 and with late withdrawals decimating their line-up, South Sydney recorded one of their proudest ever victories with a thrilling golden-second nail-biter over the Tigers. Centre Dylan Farrell scored a hat-trick on debut (including the match-winner) as the Rabbitohs prevailed 34-30 and kept their fading semi-final chances alive.

Worst games … The worst is a no-brainer; the meek surrendering to Penrith in Round 24 was nothing short of embarrassing. The Panthers ran through paper-thin defence at will and were probably disappointed to have to leave the field for half-time with 40 points on the board and no end to the carnage in sight.

There were disappointing performances against Manly (Round 8), Brisbane (Round 14) and St George-Illawarra (Round 26) but the consensus within the rugby league community was that the Rabbitohs’ win over Parramatta in Round 25 witnessed one of the worst halves of football seen in many years.

The teams went into half-time deadlocked at 0-all, both as inept as each other in completing a set without making schoolboy errors. It was only the fact that Souths played “less worse” than the Eels in the second half that they came away with the win. Of course, the huge numbers of people who switched off at half-time never got to see that.

Hold Your Head High … Issac Luke, for all of the reasons previously mentioned. He’s a star and a danger to every defensive line in the competition. His error rate is high and he seemed to be down on confidence after coming back early from his shoulder injury but he will start the 2011 season as one of the favourites for the Dally M Player of the Year award.

Sam Burgess was absolutely outstanding in his first year in the NRL, the English behemoth playing more minutes (69.5 per game) than many expected when he arrived. He was second only to Luke in average metres (126.5) and made 27.9 tackles per game, bringing a work rate to his dynamic play that very few knew he had.

Ben Lowe went from fringe first-grader to 18th man for Queensland’s State of Origin team for Game Three, Dave Taylor took a while to settle but showed his genuine game-breaking abilities and wingers Nathan Merritt and Fetuli Talanoa didn’t miss a game in crossing for 16 and 13 tries respectively.

Coach John Lang says: “There is no doubt all of those injuries, particularly the one to John Sutton who had been our main playmaker, affected us but I still believe we should have been another two wins ahead before those injuries happened. When we had our full side available we butchered some games by losing our focus during the game so we need to work on our ability to play the full 80 minutes right out, regardless of the situation.”

Conclusion … Amongst a string of positive messages from loyal supporters posted on the Rabbitohs’ facebook page following the 38-24 loss to Dragons in Round 26, one summed up their 2010 season better than most: “Same s*&%, different year.” Missing the finals by one win for the past two years won’t be acceptable if South Sydney produces something similar in 2011. This squad, which will look much the same next year, should be eyeing off a preliminary final appearance at the very least and repay the faith shown by the hardy fans of the red and green.

If John Sutton and Chris Sandow play another 26 weeks together, that’s the least that their fans should expect.