Rabbitohs to take momentum into 2017
Their hopes of playing finals football ended two months ago, but Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire says the way his side battled on this season has them in good stead for a vastly improved campaign in 2017.
The Rabbitohs were a class above the Bulldogs on Friday night, easily accounting for their finals-bound opponents 28-10 at ANZ Stadium to cap off a fantastic final month of the Telstra Premiership season.
It's that sort of performance that would have many thinking that Souths could do some damage in the playoffs, but instead it will be a year of 'what ifs'.
The year couldn't have started any better for the Bunnies as they thrashed the Roosters and Knights in the opening two rounds to sit pretty at the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder.
But an injury to Sam Burgess the following week was the beginning of the end for the 2014 premiers as injuries, suspensions and off-field distractions saw their season fall apart before it ever really got going.
The low point was undoubtedly the nine-game losing streak that featured a horror 54-4 loss to the Canberra Raiders at home.
That could have sent their season into complete freefall, but instead, it galvanised the group. They went on to lose to the Storm in golden point the following week, but have finished the year with four straight wins to give them confidence heading into 2017.
Wins over the Warriors, Sharks, Knights and Bulldogs have turned a disastrous campaign into one they can build on, and it is clear defence will be the foundation of what they do next season.
The Bunnies conceded just six tries in the final three rounds and it looks as though they've rediscovered the swagger that won them a competition two years ago.
Maguire said the way his side finished the season was a testament to the character of the playing group and is confident it will hold them in good stead for the future.
"It'll be the making of us if we choose to," he said.
"I think the boys over this last month have definitely shown what we're capable of. I'm really pleased with how my boys have really found their game again.
"The way they defended tonight was some of the best defence I've seen all season and they’ve been showing that the last three or four weeks. It's something we're going to have to grow on now.
"The comradery that I see out there – even with that last try with the fun that they're having – they've really found a way of playing football again and we want to take that forward.
"You take a lot out of what we've done tonight and the last couple of weeks. I think there's still a lot of growth in what we are as a team."
For Rabbitohs skipper Greg Inglis, 2016 will be a "missed opportunity".
At times they played like world-beaters with wins against top-eight teams in the Sharks and Bulldogs, but frustratingly for their fans they simply couldn't compete in the middle stages of the season.
"Just an opportunity that we missed, that's for sure. We'll sit back and reflect on what it takes to win a footy match each and every week in this NRL competition," Inglis said.
"I praised them for their effort over this year, especially in the past month.
"We had players coming and going throughout the season and that's just the business that we're in. I got them in a huddle and told them that I couldn't be any prouder of their efforts throughout the season."
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