South Sydney will enter the 2022 season with a new coach, a new captain and a new halfback, but senior players insist little else will change as the Rabbitohs strive to better last year’s agonising 14-12 grand final loss to Penrith.
While Souths have achieved just one of their record 21 premierships in the last 50 years, the Rabbitohs have made it at least as far as the preliminary final on seven occasions - qualifying for two grand final, including the drought breaking 2014 premiership triumph – in the past decade.
Significantly, they have done so under three coaches – Michael Maguire, Anthony Seibold and Wayne Bennett – and even more captaincy changes after Greg Inglis replaced John Sutton only for the superstar fullback and his successor, Sam Burgess, to be forced into premature retirement.
After leading the Rabbitohs to last year’s grand final, captain and halfback Adam Reynolds has departed for Brisbane, while Bennett handed over the coaching reins to long term assistant Jason Demetriou as part of a succession plan Souths players and officials believe will ensure continued success.
“We have lost a lot of big names and a lot of experience during the past few years, but we have managed to keep improving each season,” hooker Damien Cook told NRL.com.
“It is up to the senior playing group to set a certain standard and that is what we have done over the last few years. Obviously, we have had some great captains in the past and they have taught us so it is up to us to continue that.
“I think it is a great sign of a good club that we don’t need to change much; we just need to do things better.”
Newly appointed captain Cameron Murray said his job was made easier by the fact that Souths CEO Blake Solly and the club’s board had established a process to ensure a smooth leadership transition on and off the field.
“It is just a credit to Blake and everyone at the club who has made sure that the heart and soul of the club stays within the organisation regardless of who moves on or who comes in,” Murray said.
“I have a bit of a responsibility to make sure that I uphold what was taught and drilled into me as a young kid coming through, and that was through people like Sam and Reyno and Sutto, and all of those people who set a foundation for me earlier in my career.
“We set a really high expectations and we are going to have to pick up where we left off last year, so it is an opportunity for a lot of people to keep driving that same passion, and keep driving the ‘Rabbitohs’ Way’ that we have shown on the field over the last couple of years.”
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Star centre Campbell Graham said the leadership changes were exciting, particularly the elevation of Demetriou, who has been at Redfern for three years as an assistant to Bennett and previously worked under him at the Broncos.
However, Graham said the players were already familiar with Demetriou’s coaching style as he and fellow assistant Ben Hornby were very hands-on under Bennett.
“In my time at Souths I have had a few new coaches and a few good captains, and the feel and the general goal of the club hasn’t changed,” Graham said.
“It is sort of embedded into the players about what we want to do and what sort of club we want to be so I don’t think from that sense too much will change.
“The goal will be the same, but obviously we have different leaders and a different coach so it is exciting.
"Jason is a very smart coach, he understands different players and what they bring to the team, and he is very inventive with his theories and his game plans.
“Obviously, he has learned from the best in Wayne, but everyone knows how good a footy mind he has got so I am sure he is going to take us where this club wants to head.”