South Sydney's transformation
South Sydney don’t think they can win, they believe they will.
There is a real conviction emanating from Redfern that hasn’t been present in recent memory, a massive psychological shift in the way the Rabbitohs not only play, but train and talk.
South Sydney are no longer happy to be the whimsical team that has for too long produced patches of utter brilliance mixed with periods of uninterested, uninspired football.
They have transformed into a complete package that is willing to do whatever is necessary to win. It is the sort of football that has fans believing the club is returning to glory days of years long passed. Years the younger generation has only ever heard stories about, never seen for themselves.
While there are a lot of factors surrounding the rise of South Sydney in 2012, their coach Michael Maguire is undoubtedly at the coalface of the revolution.
“I knew he was going to be good, but I probably didn’t realise how good,” Co-captain Michael Crocker admitted to NRL.com.
“He is really thorough, really direct. He knows how to get his point across, he is always learning and constantly surrounding himself with good people.
“He has been a really good mentor for myself and I know a lot of the guys playing, he understands every position and what every player needs to do, he helps them out every time.
“He just doesn’t miss a thing whether it is at training or in a game.”
Maguire remember, is the coach that decided to move Greg Inglis - the best centre in the world - to fullback.
It was a calculated risk – that turned out to be a masterstroke.
Inglis has been near unstoppable since making the transition into the custodian role, the fact he is still learning the position must be a worrying sign for opponents heading into the finals series.
Crocker who played three seasons with Inglis at Melbourne between 2006-2008 is well placed to comment about the former Golden Boot winner and he has no doubt that Inglis is playing career best football.
“I have never seen Greg play consistently this well for this much of a season,” he said.
“He is really happy and he has really taken this fullback role on.
“He knows himself he still has plenty of improving, he is still learning the position, and making sure his positional play is right, and injected himself into the game when he has to.
“It is very pretty to watch and it makes our job a lot easier.”
South Sydney have had their best season since 1989 to earn a top four berth in the NRL finals, but after waiting so long, they will not be relying on a second chance when they take on the Storm in Melbourne.
After finishing third in the Telstra Premiership, the Rabbitohs will have two chances to earn their place in a preliminary final, but Crocker is adamant they need to get the job done at AAMI Park.
With a highly physical and emotionally charged tussle expected in both Qualifying Finals, Crocker believes the teams involved will need extra time to recover.
“The intensity of those two games, you are almost going to need the week off afterwards,” he said.
“It is really important that we get down there and put in our best performance, our coaches have been really good at reiterating that to the boys.
“This is the only opportunity for us as a group to compete in this finals series, we really need to make the most of it.
“You don’t want to go into the final thinking you have a second chance, I think the way it is structured now, you have Bulldogs and Manly going to be an absolute cracker of a game and I think ours is going to be the same.”
The Rabbitohs are buoyant heading into their qualifying final with the Storm having won eight of their previous 10 matches. It is testament to the belief they have in the playing group and the amazing job the coaching staff has done.
“Football is always fun, this year has been really exciting with the vibe around the club,” Crocker said.
“What the coaching staff have done for us and how we are all feeling as a group.
“A lot of the younger players are growing up and really getting used to first grade and their roles, what they need to do and really establishing themselves.
“I think a lot of that has to go to our coach and coaching staff, the way they prepare us and how they have all taken our game’s to the next level.”