They may be flying high having just belted Canberra’s monstrous forward pack into submission, but one of South Sydney’s greatest players, John Sattler, has fired some flak their way with a warning that the Rabbitohs are a long way off lifting their first premiership trophy in 41 years – describing the current Rabbitohs engine room as the weakest of the four remaining sides and scoffing at comparisons to the pack he was part of during the club’s last golden era of the late ’60 and early ’70s.
Souths reached their first preliminary final in 23 years with last Saturday night’s thrashing of the Raiders – the win coming on the back of a highly impressive display from their big men.
Sam and Luke Burgess, Roy Asotasi, Issac Luke and David Taylor all easily topped the 100-metre mark with the Burgess boys leading the way with 169 metres apiece.
Yet Sattler is adamant the task will get much tougher from here.
Asked if their dominance up front this season reminded him of the great Rabbitohs side that won premierships in 1967, 1968, 1970 and 1971, Sattler told NRL.com: “The game has changed a lot but I don’t think there is anyone there of the standard of [Bob] McCarthy and [Ron] Coote and [Gary] Stevens. They were our strong point and then we had some good finishers on the wings that were very, very good in [Michael] Cleary and Brian Jones.
“I think that the important thing for [the current pack] is working as a team.
“Some of the players… if they were at another club you might even say that they wouldn’t have made it but Michael (Maguire) has them all pulling together and playing for one another.”
While much has been made of the impact of big men Roy Asotasi, Dave Taylor and Sam Burgess this season, Sattler – who famously played through most of the 1970 grand final against Manly with a broken jaw – believes the South Sydney pack isn’t as strong across the park as that of fellow contenders Canterbury, Melbourne and Manly.
“I mean, in today’s game [Souths have] a good pack, it’s mobile – but the teams they are going to be playing, their packs are a little bit stronger overall,” he said.
“But they’ve done well – their pace has got them through as well.
“I think the smaller blokes that are playing in the back row are very, very good. They are hard workers. But the key for them is playing as one, which opens the door for the backs when the ball gets to them.
“That’s why the guys who are the very good players, like Greg Inglis… it allows him to do the things that he does best.”
Having outgunned a Raiders pack renowned as the biggest in the NRL last weekend, Souths now face the most skilful when they take on minor premiers Canterbury on Saturday night for a spot in the grand final.
And the stats suggest they face a daunting task.
While the Rabbitohs have averaged more metres per game across the park than the Bulldogs this season (1382 metres per game compared with 1369 by Canterbury), their strong point is dummy-half running – an area in which they are the most prolific side in the NRL.
Canterbury, on the other hand, are dominant up front. Their 512 metres per game from hit-ups this season placed them behind only Cronulla – while alarmingly South Sydney sit in 10th in that regard with just 459 metres per game.
Similarly, the Bulldogs are the kings of the offload this season with 305 during the regular season, compared to just 212 from Souths who make the second fewest.
But although Sattler holds reservations ahead of Saturday’s historic clash, he remains adamant that the grand final drought can be broken.
“Obviously the Bulldogs will be very, very hard to beat,” he said. “They’re tough, they’re really tough and they’ve got plenty of stick in them… but if Souths can play the way Michael has had them playing, sticking together – I reckon they can do it.
“They’ve done very well this year and the coach has a lot to do with that. He’s got them in the right frame of mind. He is very good for them, so it certainly won’t be his fault if they don’t go the distance.
“It would be lovely to see them go all the way but only they know if they can do it, if they feel like they can go all the way,” he said. “But a couple of those other clubs are very, very powerful.”