Mid-Season Review: South Sydney Rabbitohs
Position after 13 rounds: 12th
Competition points: 10
This was meant to be the year – the season of glory, glory to South Sydney! But it seems Rabbitohs fans can save their vocal cords.
The arrival of Greg Inglis to bolster an impressive player roster had most expecting a finish of top six at the least. But sadly injuries to key personnel, a lack of consistency and a worrying past seven weeks of performances have sent those expectations spiralling downward. Now the best fans could hope for would be a miraculous recovery to squeeze into the top eight.
The portents in Round 1 were good, as they hung in with last year’s grand finalists Sydney Roosters before the scoreline blew out to a 40-29 defeat. But as we now realise looking at the Roosters, that form line hasn’t held up.
They’ve lost key personnel at various times, including Sam Burgess for the season, and were rocked when halfback Chris Sandow announced he’ll be leaving the warren for Parramatta from next year.
Then there are the internal ructures, with Gorden Tallis (through the press) as good as telling bullocking back-rower Dave Taylor to pull his head in.
One minute they had Wayne Bennett all sewn up as coach from 2012, the next their dreams unravelled when he announced his signing with Newcastle. Sigh.
The Rabbitohs board moved immediately to sign ex-Storm assistant Michael Maguire instead. All that remains to be determined is what sort of spirit the players will take leading into Maguire’s mentorship, and how much they’re prepared to sacrifice to give John Lang the send-off he deserves.
Are Things Going to Plan? No way. It appears consistency isn’t in their vocabulary. Opening losses to the Roosters and Bulldogs were followed up with stirring wins over the Eels and Sea Eagles – but since then they’ve won just two of nine games.
Defence was their Achilles heel last year – and nothing has changed. They miss the most tackles per game (39.2) and as a result concede the second most tries (4.1). Through 26 rounds last year they missed 40.1 tackles a game to rank the worst offender. Talk about deja vu.
The real curiosity is that despite gaining one of the most dangerous attacking players in the game in Greg Inglis, they’ve actually back-pedalled. Last year they were a formidable line-breaking outfit, topping the NRL with 5.5 a game. Now they bust the fewest with just three.
As a result, their territorial gain has slumped too, from 1371 metres in 2010 (4th) to 1299 metres (11th.) And where they were ranked second for both points and tries scored, they’re now ninth and tenth.
Injury Front… Souths have only had to use 26 players to date, the seventh fewest among teams – but the calibre of star they’ve lost has been devastating. Sam Burgess managed just four appearances before a serious ankle injury in Round 7 saw him sidelined for the season; Inglis missed three weeks with a hamstring; and Roy Asotasi is out indefinitely with a serious wrist injury sustained in Round 8. A foot injury has seen Luke Stuart take the field just five times; Scott Geddes was ruled out for the season after one game. Not great.
If Only… Their defence wasn’t so brittle – particularly in the periods before halftime and in the closing 20 minutes of matches. The Rabbitohs leak a league-high 86 points in second quarters and their 106 points conceded in the 20-minutes before fulltime are the second most in the NRL.
The double whammy is that Souths are also the least damaging side in the 20 minutes before halftime, managing a total of just 39 points to date and being kept scoreless seven of 12 times including the past three games in a row.
Who’s Flying… Asotasi would have been one of the first players picked for New Zealand (and that would have been a deserved recall) had he not been injured on the eve of selection for the May VB Test. The skipper was among the most damaging defenders in the NRL prior to his injury, with 15 bone-crunching big hits and a 92 per cent effectiveness.
Inglis has had his moments; he has a team-high six try assists (shared with Sandow). He scored a try and set up two others in their Round 3 win over the Eels and managed a season-high 132 metres against the Sharks in Round 8.
Sandow has been an occasional vibrant contributor in attack (five tries including a double against the Sharks, six try assists including a double against the Wests Tigers, plus an NRL-high three 40/20s) but he’s been grounded the rest of the time.
There’s no doubt Dave Taylor is a huge asset (ranked fourth overall for offloads with 31 with 34 tackle-breaks and five try assists). He’s now playing big minutes, too (66). But his four tackle misses a game are a concern.
Needs To Lift… If Parramatta think Chris Sandow is the answer to their halves problems next year, they’d better think again. All halves miss more tackles than other players, that’s a given. But the really good ones find a way to improve and limit the damage. Until Sandow does (66 misses, most in the comp and 20 more than the next most ineffective halfback) he’ll continue to be regarded as 50 per cent awesome asset, 50 per cent liability.
Rabbitohs Football Manager Mark Ellison tells NRL.com… “Our year to date is only a 4.5 out of 10. We need to improve our decision-making in our good-ball area (attacking zone). Our focus in the back end of the season will be on individuals performing at their best each week. If there’s an area we are most happy about it would be the performance of our less-experienced players in the past few weeks in particular… guys like Shannan McPherson, Nathan Peats, Dave Tyrrell and Chris McQueen. Injuries have impacted on our depth – but they’ve also provided an opportunity for our young players, so it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.”
Predicted Finish… The next six weeks are crucial. They have the bye this weekend and then play three struggling sides – Gold Coast, Cronulla and the Roosters in their following five games. But they also meet the Broncos and Sea Eagles. If they can manage just two losses in that time they’ll still be in the mix; three and it will be touch and go – and four, forget it. We’re thinking they’ll end up around 9th or 10th.
Under-20s… It’s been a trying season for the junior Rabbitohs, who are struggling in attack and, like their senior colleagues, defence. They sit 14th on the ladder with just two wins and a draw from their 13 games. They’ve conceded the most points by any side (426) and have posted the third least points in attack (230). Sam Burgess’ little brother George (average 152 metres) made great headway in his two games before being whisked away to play NSW Cup. Lock and captain Adrian Ha’angana has tried hard every week, averaging 15 runs, 125 metres and 28 tackles as well as adding seven try assists.