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Rabbitohs 2021 season preview: Pieces in place to send Wayne out a winner

The 2020 season took a long time to get going for the Rabbitohs but once it did, they stamped themselves as one of the dominant teams of the competition – and every indication is they are capable of further improvement this year.

The Bunnies had just five wins and six losses after 11 rounds to be sitting outside the top eight more than halfway through the reduced season but lost just two more regular season games to climb to sixth.

They capped the regular season with a record 60-8 win over cross-town rivals the Roosters in what was arguably the most dominant team performance of the year before wiping away the Knights and Eels and only narrowly going down to runaway minor premiers Penrith in a hard-fought grand final qualifier.

That was all despite losing star fullback Latrell Mitchell to a hamstring injury in round 16, plus both centres Braidon Burns and James Roberts and second-rower Ethan Lowe all gone for the year by round 10.

The club unearthed some gems like Kaeon Koloamatangi, Jaxson Paulo and Steven Marsters along the way and head into 2021 with one of the best packs and one of the best playmaking rosters in the NRL.

The Rabbitohs' 2020 season in review

The 2020 outlook

What's new

The Bunnies look to have done pretty well in terms of recruitment.

They did lose emerging fullback Corey Allan to the Bulldogs and their edge forward stocks took a hit with the departure of Bayley Sironen to the Warriors, though he has been replaced by ex-Dragon Jacob Host.

The club picked up Maroons star Jai Arrow to round out one of the most formidable middle rotations in the NRL and unwanted Panthers powerhouse Josh Mansour returns to his junior club to bolster the backline.

The injury-prone Roberts has left for the Wests Tigers but there are plenty of good centre options remaining.

Tigers legend Benji Marshall gets a swan song under Wayne Bennett in a move that will be great culturally and potentially valuable on-field as well if there are any injuries among the playmakers. Taane Milne and Tautau Moga round out the new names.

The draw

A challenging draw with repeat games against all of last year's top four sides and two five-day turnarounds in the space of a month in the middle of the Origin period – one of those involving travel to Brisbane.

They have blockbusters to bookend the year with the Storm and Roosters in the opening three weeks plus the Panthers and Roosters in the final three rounds.

Will Latrell become one of the NRL's premier fullbacks in 2021?

The burning question

Is this the year Latrell Mitchell evolves into one of the NRL's elite fullbacks?

The most discussed and scrutinised player on the books at Souths finally began to prove last year why the club was so keen to sign him to play in the No.1, producing some very big performances and lifting his playmaking skills to new heights.

Mitchell's first year in the NRL as a teenaged fullback was very raw in terms of fullback play and he didn't get another chance until his move to Souths, which started out in scratchy fashion before building a bit of momentum only to be scuppered by injury at the worst time.

The stat that gives you hope

There was plenty to like about the Bunnies' season, particularly the second half, but probably the stat-line giving Souths fans the most joy over the off-season is this one: 60-8.

In the final round of the regular season, the back-to-back premiers had absolutely no answer to a cardinal and myrtle onslaught. Cody Walker put in one of the individual performances of the year and Alex Johnston bagged five tries as Souths piled on their biggest ever total against their old rivals.

A team capable of that sort of demolition of a competition heavyweight should be feeling pretty good heading into the new season.

What you need to know NRL Fantasy-wise

Damien Cook ($856k) is one of the elite Fantasy hookers while Cameron Murray ($722k) will be a handy dual-position forward, particularly if he spends most of his time at lock. Jair Arrow ($604k) has been an excellent scorer in the past and could be a value buy up front.

Ready to play? Join our league of strong and confident kids

Contract matters

The big names off contract are Adam Reynolds, Dane Gagai and Jaydn Su'A, with Mitchell recently signing an extension. Braidon Burns, Mark Nicholls and Pat Mago are also free agents at season's end while new arrivals Marshall and Moga each joined on one-year deals.

Breakout player to watch

Dean Hawkins

There aren't too many rookies in the Souths top 30 in what looks a pretty settled top 20 or 25 names with plenty of depth and experience. One to keep an eye on, particularly with the lower grades returning this year, is half or five-eighth Dean Hawkins.

Hawkins stands to benefit more than almost anyone from having Marshall around the club this year alongside Reynolds and Walker and if injuries bite, particularly around Origin time, Hawkins could get his first taste of NRL. At just 21, he's certainly a playmaker to keep an eye on for Souths fans.

Match Highlights: Dragons v Rabbitohs

The quote

"There is a chance to win a competition there, but they’re hard to win man. You’ve got to put it together, injury-free for 24 rounds and then semis and it is hard to do."

- Rabbitohs recruit Benji Marshall.

The good, the bad, the likely

The good: Souths stamped their credentials last year and will be targeting a premiership in 2021 – a feat that certainly isn't out of their reach.

The bad: It's very hard to see the Bunnies missing the finals. It would take a horror run of form and injury to push them outside the top eight at the end of the year.

The likely: Souths should wrap up a top-four spot and likely to be in action in at least the second-last week of the season, if not later.

Rabbitohs in 2021

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