Rabbitohs Mid-Season Review
The defending premiers started this season as they finished 2014: in winning form. Taking out the Charity Shield, Auckland Nines and World Club Challenge, South Sydney were faced with the welcome issue of trying to cram their new-found silverware into a trophy cabinet that had seldom seen such riches for years. After a strong start to the Telstra Premiership season, injuries to key players saw the side dip in form. But as those players have returned, so have the wins, with the Rabbitohs sitting fifth on the ladder with an 8-5 record.
The run home: The Rabbitohs still have two byes up their sleave, which could prove advantageous as they look to manage the load of their stars heading into the second half of the season. Tough match-ups with the Dragons at the SCG, a road trip to 1300SMILES Stadium, a Good Friday re-match with the Bulldogs, and return matches with the Broncos and Roosters await South Sydney as they look to be the first side to win back-to-back premierships since the great Broncos side of the '90s.
Game to remember: There have been a few memorable wins so far in 2015, but it's hard to go past South Sydney's 36-6 thrashing of the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium in the season-opener. Holding a narrow 10-2 lead at half-time, the Bunnies ran in four second-half tries while Adam Reynolds kicked eight from eight to steer the side to victory. As it turns out, Bennett's Broncos are a fairly handy side themselves this season, having gone on to win 10 of 13 games.
The one that got away: Following a wet and wild Monday night game at Remondis Stadium played in unprecedented conditions, Souths headed north to host the Raiders at Barlow Park in Cairns. With the Rabbitohs up 22-14 with 20 minutes remaining, the Green Machine stormed home to finish 30-22 victors.
MVP: Adam Reynolds could do nothing wrong at the start of the year before injury cruelled his 2015 season, missing first with a leg injury following the Good Friday win over the Bulldogs, and then missing again with a broken thumb suffered in his return game against the Dragons in Round 9. South Sydney's inability to win without their chief playmaker is why we picked him as their best. His composure and controlled kicking game during the six matches he played made South Sydney a far more dangerous prospect. While the side took some time to adjust without their mercurial No.7, they're now winning games without Reynolds, which bodes well for his eventual return in the coming weeks.
Stats that matter: Statistically, the Rabbitohs compare pretty well across the board. They sit third overall for total runs (2,265) and fourth for total run metres (20,055), while in defence have missed 263 tackles, the fifth lowest in the competition. Interestingly, they sit last for offloads (87, compared with 196 for the Panthers who lead this stat), but are second for tackle busts (353), just seven less than joint competition leaders the Cowboys.
Fantasy stud: George Burgess is the highest-scoring Rabbitoh after 13 rounds in NRL Fantasy, with a total points tally of 665. He averages 51.2 for the season, and while his scores have dipped slightly of late, he is still almost essential to have in the front row, particularly given his bye coverage. A notable mention also to Reynolds, who averages 59.8 from his six appearances.
Injury report: Reynolds's aforementioned leg and hand injuries have certainly impacted the side, as has the loss of playmaking back-rowers Glenn Stewart (hand) and John Sutton (jaw) at points during the season. Young centre Dylan Walker (hand) also missed a month of action, and is starting to rediscover his best form.
What they are saying: "We've learned a lot about ourselves, especially when it comes to overcoming adversity," coach Michael Maguire told rabbitohs.com.au.
"There were periods there where we didn't have John Sutton or Adam Reynolds – that's when others players begin to stand up.
"Luke Keary has really taken the opportunity with those two boys gone for long periods, but he's just one of a number of players I could talk about who have developed in our team and really grown.
"I think Greg Inglis as a captain has really grown, as well as 'Sutto' in a leadership capacity. Both those guys do a lot of work in terms of helping the younger players in the team.
"Then you've also got someone like Glenn Stewart who has been injured for a little while now – he's just training really hard in the background and showing great leadership and commitment to getting back out onto the field again. All of these little things help us as a team."
Predicted finish: With a tough run home, the Rabbitohs will certainly test themselves against some of the best the competition has to offer before the regular season comes to a close. If they can keep their stars fit and healthy, a top four finish and another tilt at the title looks likely.