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For and Against: Rabbitohs can defy history and win premiership

The Rabbitohs looked anything but premiership contenders during May when they were humiliated by both of last year's grand finalists in the space of 17 days.

Wayne Bennett's men were outscored 106-12 by the Storm and Panthers, the two teams many are tipping to square off again for the title come October.

Never one to panic, Bennett retained his composure and rammed the message home to his team that defensive intensity was the key to turning things around and they responded by conceding just 10 points per game in their next three outings.

With Latrell Mitchell hitting his straps big time in Origin, the Rabbitohs look to be right back in the frame for 2021 glory.

For & Against - Souths can win the premiership

For - NRL.com senior journalist Martin Lenehan

History tells us that no team has ever gone on to win the premiership after conceding 50 points in a game, so South Sydney’s title hopes went up in smoke in round nine when the Storm lapped them 50-0.

To make matters worse, Wayne Bennett’s men followed up a fortnight later with a demoralising 56-12 loss to the Panthers in Dubbo.

Time to put a big black line through the Bunnies on the list of contenders, right?

Wrong.

The Pride of the League certainly had their pride dented in those losses but they rebounded from the Penrith defeat to down fellow heavyweights Parramatta in round 12 before taking care of Newcastle in some style and then putting the cleaners through the hapless Broncos.

Sitting comfortably in fourth spot with 10 rounds to play, the Rabbitohs have a sweet run home which includes clashes against cellar-dwellers Brisbane and Canterbury as well as games against the Titans and Tigers, both of whom they’ve already beaten this year.

Mitchell intercepts a pass and goes 85m to score

Their next six opponents sit below them on the ladder so there’s plenty of wins to be banked before they face a rematch with the Eels at Bankwest Stadium in round 21.

Two weeks later they'll get a shot at redemption against the Panthers before rounding out the regular season with a blockbuster against the Roosters at the SCG and a Stadium Australia showdown with the Dragons, whose resistance could well be broken by then.

Boasting a lethal left edge, one of the game’s premier hookers, a gun halfback and a pack more than capable of matching it with the NRL’s best, Souths have all the weapons they need to go deep into the finals – just as they have done for the past three seasons.

The fly in the ointment could be State of Origin III, with Latrell Mitchell, Damien Cook, Dane Gagai, Cameron Murray and Jai Arrow all certain to be missing the round 17 clash with the Cowboys and then hoping to come through the final game of the series unscathed.

Like every other coach in the NRL, Bennett will hold his breath and cover his eyes as his superstars rip in one last time for their states, but he'll also be taking plenty of satisfaction and confidence out of Mitchell's devastating form and the buzz his fellow Blues will have brought back to Redfern.

With Bennett and favourite son Adam Reynolds moving on at the end of 2021, there is no shortage of added motivation for the Bunnies to deliver the foundation club its 22nd premiership.

Match Highlights: Broncos v Rabbitohs

The master coach has had plenty of practice over the years at nursing a team through the Origin period and he’ll rely heavily on old heads Reynolds and Benji Marshall to steer the ship during the next month.

Reynolds, Marshall and Cody Walker stepped up to the plate against the Knights and Mitchell showed great commitment to back up from Origin I and run for 192 metres with a couple of line breaks and a tackle breaks.

Bennett was happy for his star No.1 to back up three days after his starring role for NSW so he could get more miles into his legs after missing a month of footy due to suspension from rounds 7-10.

Put simply, the Rabbitohs have the right man at the helm and the right men on the paddock to turn history on its head.

Against - NRL.com senior journalist Paul Zalunardo

To borrow a term oft-used in cricket, the 2021 Rabbitohs need to prove they’re not “flat-track bullies” if they are to win a first premiership since 2014. 

For those not au fait with cricket lingo, the above term refers to batters who rack up big scores and look a million dollars in favourable conditions against mediocre opposition. 

These same batters then struggle to repeat anywhere near that same level of output when faced with the best opposition available. 

If you transfer that concept into the Telstra Premiership you can’t help but think of the South Sydney Rabbitohs. 

By no means are South Sydney having a bad season, nor are they anything resembling a bad team.

Episode 18 - Blues chase clean sweep, where to for Maroons?

They are in fourth spot after 15 rounds and have already won 11 matches. A top-four finish looks likely. 

It’s their record against the two big guns that have the alarm bells ringing. 

The slight against the Rabbitohs isn’t that they’ve lost to Melbourne and Penrith, but rather the nature of those defeats. 

They weren’t matches where the team would have walked off the field thinking “if we’d done X and Y a bit better we could have won”. 

The 50-0 loss to Melbourne and 56-12 defeat against Penrith were the type of matches where players and supporters can be excused for thinking “how are we going to beat them?” 

If the Storm and Panthers finish the regular season in the top two spots, the likely road to a premiership for the Rabbitohs would require them to beat both those teams. At the moment that looks a tall order. 

Match Highlights: Rabbitohs v Storm

While mustering enough points to win big games is unlikely to be a problem, the jury remains out regarding the South Sydney forward pack, especially their ability to defend at a high level against strong opposition. 

While Damien Cook and Cameron Murray were part of the Blues that has wrapped up the Origin series and Keaon Koloamatangi was in the extended NSW squad for game one, none of that trio provide the middle-third muscle teams need to win big games in September. 

The collective might of Mark Nicholls, Liam Martin, Thomas Burgess and Junior Tatola is going to have to make the Panthers, Storm and for that matter the Eels and Roosters fear the Bunnies’ middle-men. 

If the Rabbitohs are party like its 2014 following this year’s grand final they need to start by pushing, if not beating, Penrith in round 23. That’d give the self-belief a nudge in the right direction. 

Another big loss will only add to the voices suggesting another exit on preliminary finals weekend is on the cards. 

Will the Rabbitohs win the 2021 premiership?

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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

 

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