A powerful attacking force one week, well below par the next, 2017 proved to be an inconsistent year for a Rabbitohs outfit who parted ways with head coach Michael Maguire just days after their campaign ended.
The season began with a poor display against a rampant Wests Tigers side but Souths backed that up with a good win over eventual finalists the Sea Eagles at Lottoland the following week. They would go on to show great character against competition powerhouses the Broncos and Storm early in the season in losing efforts, before a late run of three wins came to a grinding halt in Melbourne's Round 25 demolition job at AAMI Park.
Their fickle form line was perhaps indicative of a side with an average age of 24, with 2017 signalling somewhat of a changing of the guard at Souths with a core group of youngsters making their mark and a long-term injury to captain Greg Inglis opening the door for Alex Johnston to show he could be the club's long-term fullback.
In spite of the progress made 2017 will still be remembered as an underwhelming season for a side littered with representative experience.
Where they excelled: Despite their defensive concerns the Rabbitohs still managed the third lowest missed tackle count in the NRL (703). They also proved elusive with ball in hand, finishing fourth in the competition for tackle breaks (835). Breakout back-rower Angus Crichton was the main contributor to that stat, finishing with 117 (sixth highest in the NRL). Discipline wasn't as big an issue as some critics would have you believe, with Souths conceding the sixth fewest penalties across the competition.
Where they struggled: When the whips were cracking Souths simply couldn't match it with the best the NRL had to offer on a regular basis. A record of three wins and 12 losses against top eight sides showed they weren't up to finals standard, with a poor 4-8 home record not helping matters. Lacklustre go-forward (third last in the NRL for all run metres) and ball control (sixth most errors overall) compounded their woes as the Rabbitohs failed to rediscover their mojo in 2017.
Missing in action: Greg Inglis missed almost the entire season with a knee injury he sustained in Round 1, and an ongoing rib injury limited Sam Burgess's involvement across the back end of the season. Halfback Adam Reynolds missed three games while suspension kept George Burgess to 18 appearances.
Turning point: While one man might not have changed their season completely, it's reasonable to think things might have been different had Inglis featured in more than just one match. Chasing out of the line to limit the effectiveness of a James Tedesco kick-return, Inglis hit the deck when attempting to round up the Wests Tigers No.1 barely eight minutes into his season. The Queensland and Australia rep played a further 50 minutes before succumbing to the knee injury, scans after the match revealing a torn ACL. Souths of course had plenty of time to get their year going but losing one of the most influential players in the game proved to be a massive hurdle they never really overcame.
Hold your head high: With injury comes opportunity and Alex Johnston took his, starting to find his feet at fullback. With Inglis sidelined Maguire used both Johnston and Cody Walker at the back, the 22-year-old biding his time on the wing and then exploding in a four-game run before a hamstring injury ended his season prematurely. Johnston scored 22 tries – including five against the Panthers in Round 17 – to finish the season second on the top try-scorer list behind Storm flyer Suliasi Vunivalu.
However potentially the biggest positive to come from the campaign was the emergence of Angus Crichton. In his first full season in the top grade the Young Cherrypickers junior was a standout, running in seven tries to go with his aforementioned impressive haul of tackle breaks. He played through a foot injury across the back end of the season and his chase on a runaway Vunivalu (with Melbourne up by 52 and with less than three minutes remaining) showed the character he possesses. A fan favourite, Crichton should be a leader at the club for many years to come.
2018 crystal ball: There are so many unknowns right now but the future looks bright. The acquisition of Knights centre and 2017 Wally Lewis Medalist Dane Gagai certainly adds a further element of danger to their attack, while Inglis's return will help settle the spine. But with a new coach to be announced and room for tweaks to the roster it could be a very different looking side that runs out onto the new Perth Stadium in Round 1, 2018.
Conclusion: This season saw a new wave of South Sydney talent make their way into first grade. Crichton, Cameron Murray, Tyrell Fuimaono and Campbell Graham could all be mainstays in the years to come with Maguire setting the side up for future success. While the season was poor results-wise, at the end of the Maguire era – one that featured the club's long-awaited 21st premiership – Souths fans should rest easy knowing with a fresh start another successful period might not be too far away.
Home Record: 4-8
Away Record: 5-7
Longest Winning Streak: 3 (Round 22-24)
Longest Losing Streak: 4 (Round 18-21)
Players Used: 30
Tries Scored: 78
Tries Conceded: 95