Mid-season review: South Sydney Rabbitohs

Position after 13 rounds: 7th
Wins: 7
Losses: 5
Byes: 1
Competition points: 16
Differential: +3

Though they’d never admit it, many fans of all stripes are quietly glad to see a little bit of red-and-green colouring towards the top of the NRL ladder.

The Rabbitohs’ season at the halfway point is shaping as their most promising since readmission in 2002, off the back of some mouth-watering rugby league from Queensland stars Greg Inglis and Dave Taylor.

Already this year, with admirable discipline that’s been so lacking in seasons past, the Bunnies have disposed of top-eight heavies the Sharks, Bulldogs, Wests Tigers and Cowboys. Add to that the fact that two of South Sydney’s seven wins have been snatched in thrilling golden-point dramas and it’s obvious to all that the Rabbitohs finally mean business.

A critical gaze does uncover some areas that need addressing – the Bunnies have the worst defence in the top eight (sixth worst overall) and only the Warriors, Raiders and Eels have conceded more tries.

South Sydney have also struggled to gain metres at times... but these are all issues that will alert coach Michael Maguire rather than alarm him.

In many ways, seventh is a pretty accurate representation of where the Bunnies stand – poised at the halfway mark to strike for just their second finals berth in 22 years.

Are Things Going To Plan? Ask that question again in a month. From here the Bunnies could go one of two ways and they will need to capitalise on a dream second half of the draw if they’re to recommence their climb towards the top.

A strong defensive focus has paid dividends: only the Broncos have conceded fewer metres than South Sydney’s 1261.8 per game.

They’ve shored up their handling as well and their error count (10.2 per game) is currently the third leanest in the NRL.  

With his million horse-power engine, Greg Inglis has broken more defensive lines than anyone in the comp, helping Souths to third in the line-breaks category and fifth in points scored.

But it’s in defence that they need to improve, with their average of 22.1 points leaked per game the sixth highest in the NRL.

Injury Front… Souths have called on the services of 26 players to date (more than the NRL average), neccessitated in no small part by a heartbreaking pec injury suffered by skipper Roy Asotasi in Round 6.

In addition to Asotasi, Souths have had to navigate multiple injuries to co-captain Sam Burgess who has missed three games already and faces another extended period on the sidelines. Matt King (hernia) and Ed Pettybourne (calf) are the other two big names who will be watching from the bleachers in coming weeks, and proof that Lady Luck has been a frivolous acquaintance to the Rabbitohs throughout 2012.

If Only… They didn’t begin their campaign with a jaw-dropping loss to the Roosters in Round 1. Souths had the game tied up with three minutes to play but a miraculous period of football handed the Roosters a win they’ll never forget.

It was a match the Bunnies should have won and they’d be inside the top four now if they’d stayed awake for just a few more sets of six. It was an early kick in the guts for South Sydney who would go on to win just one of their first four matches. Who knows where they’d be if not for that confidence-sapping defeat?

Who’s Flying… In spite of some frustrating injuries to key players, South Sydney’s all-important core of 1, 6, 7 and 9 have been in rare form. Having made the move to fullback with ease, Greg Inglis is setting the NRL alight with consistent match-winning performances that are the envy of most other backs in the competition. He leads the NRL for line-breaks (14) and is second behind only Ben Barba for tackle-breaks (68). He’s also scored seven tries in 11 games and is averaging well over 100 metres per outing.

In the halves, Adam Reynolds is lapping up a fine rookie year; he’s a major asset for Souths as they chase their first flag since 1971. He’s the second most prolific point-scorer in the NRL (89 points) and he’s kicked far more goals than any other player (42). Oh, and who could forget that golden-point field-goal against the Dragons in Round 11?

Up front it’s Issac Luke turning in game after gutsy game. He makes nearly 30 tackles a match and is the third most prolific offloader (25) in the NRL behind Paul Gallen and Justin Hodges. Then there’s the powerhouse that is Dave Taylor, who thinks he’s a sports car but is built like a semi-trailer. There’s not much to be said for Taylor more than what he does works, nearly every time .

Needs To Lift… Adam Reynolds’ halves partner John Sutton is playing well but if he were to recapture his best form there’s no telling how much more devastating the bunnies would be. He is running the ball with authority – 10 runs for 80 metres’s – but he’s made just three try assists this season and has only crossed for a four-pointer once, back in Round 1. He’s making a bunch of tackles (20 a game) but his 32 misses are the most of anybody in the South Sydney backline and the fifth most amongst five-eighths. No biggie, but if he shows improvement it could well round out the Rabbitohs as a complete package.

Coach Michael Maguire tells NRL.com… “I’ve been pleased with how the players have jumped on board with everything we’re doing, that’s probably the best thing about this season so far,” Maguire says.

“They’re aware of where we’re at and they’re aware of where we’re trying to get to.

“Because I’ve got the leadership group and I’ve got the five captains, they’re the ones that are really pushing it so it essentially makes my life quite easy... they’re the ones setting the standards – and they’ve got very high standards.

“Obviously you don’t want injuries, but they come with the territory. I won’t lie, Roy [Asotasi] was a big part of our group. And he still is to be honest, he’s part of our coaching staff... he’s coming along really well with that injury so it will be good to get him back four to five weeks before the finals series.

“Our defence at the moment is an area that we’re aware we need to sharpen up on. We’ve got points in us, that’s for sure – but we’ve probably been a little bit inconsistent in [defence] so it’s something we’ll need to address over the back-end of the season.”

Predicted Finish… The Rabbitohs have got one of the best runs into the finals of any team vying for September glory. Their next five outings include matches against the Eels, Panthers, Knights and Roosters and they play only two top-four sides between now and Round 26. If they can capitalise on that, Souths could well find themselves entering the playoffs with two lives. Hesitantly... fourth? No, let’s go fifth.   

Under-20s… Perhaps the junior Bunnies have been learning off their big brothers. In an eerily similar set of circumstances, the Toyota Cup South Sydney side finds itself at the rear of the top eight with an almost neutral for-and-against (-4). Like their older counterparts, the junior Rabbitohs are ranked sixth worst when it comes to defence, having leaked an average of 28.5 points per game. Halfback Luke Keary has been a standout for Souths. He’s one of the best one-on-one defenders in the Toyota Cup and has leant a hand in 10 tries this season, seventh most in the competition.