Rabbitohs 2015 season review
A season which started with such promise ended in frustration and disappointment as untimely injuries and suspensions derailed South Sydney's premiership defence. It was never going to be easy backing up the feats of the 2014 campaign, but impressive pre-season and early-season form looked set to carry the Rabbitohs all the way through to another title decider. However with the absence of key personnel from last year's squad coupled with members of the current roster spending time on the sidelines for a variety of reasons the squad's depth was put to the test, with an emerging group of young players seemingly not yet at the stage of their development to match it with the NRL's best on a weekly basis.
Where They Excelled: Given the results of the last month of the season, it's easy to forget that there were plenty of highlights to come from Michael Maguire's side in 2015. The opening three rounds of the season, when they accounted for the Broncos, Roosters and Wests Tigers, plus another Perth classic with a big win over the Warriors, the demolition job over the Knights and beating the Cowboys on their home turf come to mind. South Sydney finished second in the NRL for tackle breaks (716) for the season, and third for tackles (8729) behind the Dragons and Storm.
Where They Struggled: The Rabbitohs' form took a turn for the worse at the business end of the season. With a tough run to round out the regular season, Souths fell to the Bulldogs, Broncos and Roosters, before being eliminated by the Sharks in the first week of the finals. Not wanting to chance their arm on too many occasions, the Rabbitohs finished last in the NRL for offloads (167), and mid-table for other key stats including tries, line breaks, run metres, completions, errors, kick metres, and missed tackles, with their seventh-place finish a true reflection of their campaign.
Missing In Action: Adam Reynolds (knee, hand) and Glenn Stewart (thumb) each missed seven games through the middle part of the year, while a jaw injury saw John Sutton sit out several weeks early on, robbing the Rabbitohs of both ball-playing back-rowers, before a broken leg sustained in the Round 25 loss to the Broncos ended Sutton's season. Dynamic centre Dylan Walker also sat out three weeks with a broken hand, not before scoring two tries with just one functioning hand against Wests Tigers in Round 3. Captain Greg Inglis was hampered by a knee injury late in the year, with surgery required to manage the ongoing complaint. A biceps injury also forced fan-favourite Ben Lowe into retirement.
Turning Point: The Good Friday victory over the Bulldogs ultimately proved more costly than the two competition points earned, with Adam Reynolds injured in the dying stages of the contest, and South Sydney's momentum brought to a halt. They would go on to lose their next three to the Cowboys, Sharks and Raiders. On the back of a disappointing loss to the Bulldogs in the return fixture in Round 24, and with the majority of the squad available for selection, Souths had the opportunity to test themselves against a red-hot Broncos side but ultimately came off second-best as their hopes of back-to-back premierships faded.
Hold Your Head High: He might have made his NRL debut in Round 1 of this season, but there was plenty to like about young forward Chris Grevsmuhl, who ended the season with six tries and showed plenty of determination in the defence. Bryson Goodwin was also very consistent out wide for the Rabbitohs. Shifting between centre and the wing, the experienced outside back played in all 25 games in 2015, scoring six tries, slotting two penalty goals (including the match-winner against the Bulldogs in Round 5) and averaging 101 metres per game in a solid year on the flank.
2016 Crystal Ball: There are so many questions that need answering before we can get a clearer picture of what 2016 holds, but much of this revolves around Souths' activity in the transfer market. Following the departure of Issac Luke and Glenn Stewart, there's a case for the inclusion of some experienced heads to compliment the talented youngsters at Maguire's disposal. Robbie Farah has been mooted by many as the man to share hooking duties with Cameron McInnes, and it remains to be seen what a certain 2014 Clive Churchill Medalist will decide to do once his 2015 Rugby World Cup commitments conclude. Regardless, the 2015-16 summer presents Maguire with an excellent opportunity to rework his squad into premiership contenders once again.
Conclusion: After the highs of 2014 and a promising start to the 2015 campaign, the manner in which Souths bowed out of the title race was below what many expected of last season's premiers.
Speaking after his side's elimination final loss, coach Michael Maguire said he was "proud" of his troops, and remained optimistic for the future.
"Obviously it wasn't the finish to the season we would've liked, it wasn't to be this year," Maguire said. "The boys tried and they continually kept working hard for each other. We're disappointed, we would've liked to go to where everyone wants to go to, but the spirit in the team... we had many ups and downs, we'll learn a lot from that."
With a talented roster of youngsters and the opportunity to introduce some fresh faces, it would only take the signing of one or two key players to help propel the Rabbitohs back into title reckoning next season.
Position (after 26 rounds): 7th
Position (after the Finals): Eliminated in Finals Week 1
Home Record: 8-4
Away Record: 5-7
Longest Winning Streak: 3 games (Round 1-3, Round 11-13, Round 19-21)
Longest Losing Streak: 4 games (Round 24-Finals Week 1)
Players Used: 26
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 80
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 85