Saturday, 10 September 2016

2016 preview: South Sydney Rabbitohs (2016)

In a nutshell…
South Sydney went from being a dominating powerhouse in 2014 to a side that meekly whimpered out of contention of similar glory in 2015. They rose to fourth on the ladder and looked set for another genuine tilt at premiership glory, only to find themselves copping three consecutive drubbings to round out the season, before Cronulla humiliated them in the first week of the finals. Souths fans will see the return of Sam Burgess, but have lost quality first graders in Issac Luke, Glenn Stewart, Chris McQueen and Dylan Walker.

Gains: Sam Burgess (Rugby Union), Damien Cook (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Hymel Hunt (Melbourne Storm), Dane Nielsen (St.George-Illawarra), Michael Oldfield (Catalan Dragons)

Losses: Tim Grant (Wests Tigers), Ben Lowe (retired), Issac Luke (Warriors), Chris McQueen (Titans), Daryl Millard (released), Joel Reddy (released), Glenn Stewart (Catalan Dragons), Dylan Walker (Sea Eagles)

Souths have lost a lot of quality in the forwards with only Sam Burgess being brought into the side. The loss of Issac Luke will be covered by talented junior Cameron McInnes and new recruit Damien Cook. Tim Grant and Glenn Stewart depart after just one season, while long-serving Chris McQueen made way for Burgess’ return.
Any side containing Greg Inglis with room to move is always going to have one of the best backlines in the game. The Rabbitohs lost quality centre Dylan Walker to Manly and have also had to release some depth players, which could be problematic if injuries become a factor. Solid enough first-choice three-quarter line with Kirsome Auva’a and Bryson Goodwin lining up in the centres, and Alex Johnston and Aaron Gray the likely wingers.

Adam Reynolds suffered a horror season with injuries in 2015 and he will be looking to put that year behind him and push towards directing South Sydney back into the Grand Final and personally, towards a State of Origin berth. His halves partner Luke Keary had a strong season where he played in 24 of the clubs 25 games. New recruit Cody Walker starred in the Charity Shield and will line up in Round 1 with Keary suspended.
The return of Sam Burgess is an immense boost to a Souths pack that was indifferent at times throughout 2015. His return though came at a cost, with a number of players forced out to accommodate him, most notably back rower Chris McQueen. Glenn Stewart has also departed the club along with depth forwards Tim Grant and Ben Lowe. The Rabbitohs have talented youngsters Nathan Brown and Paul Carter who will be more than keen to step up. 

Trump cards
Adam Reynolds: His magnificent kicking game and ability to lead his side around the park was sorely missed at times during 2015, but with his injuries behind him, he will be hoping to get back to his 2014 form.

Alex Johnston: Had a stellar season in 2015, which saw him make his test debut. He has scored 38 tries in his 43 career games, showcasing his amazing ability as a finisher. 2015 also saw him capably cover at fullback.

Under the pump
Luke Keary: After a well-documented pre-season blow-up with owner Russell Crowe, the five-eighth is reportedly shopping himself around – but a Round 1 suspension has opened up an opportunity for Cody Walker. The disgruntled Keary could find himself on the outer with coach Michael Maguire if Walker makes the most of a long-awaited NRL opportunity.

Cameron McInnes: The young hooker will go from being the understudy to the experienced Issac Luke, to the starting rake. He will need to form good combinations with his halves Keary and Reynolds and key players Inglis and Burgess, if he is to have a similar impact of his predecessor. Making his job tougher will be the recruitment of the talented Damien Cook, who impressed as the backup hooker at the Bulldogs last year.

Paul Carter: The impressive and skilful back rower could be set to become a regular member of the starting back row, where his strong running will see him fit seamlessly into the Souths pack. Has had his share of off-field problems, but 2016 could be a breakout year for Carter.

Greg Inglis: The elusive, powerful running and fending of Inglis is near impossible to contain, but when you add his ability to pass, kick, create and position his team mates, he makes any backline look sublime. He seems entirely unfazed by the pressures placed upon him which only serves to add to his amazing ability.

Sam Burgess: The versatile forward can play as a wide running back rower and as a straight running prop. Fearless, tough and powerful, he is also capable of being a link player between the halves and the backs making him very hard to contain.

Achilles heel
Depth. Souths used just 26 players in 2015, however they have lost 8 regular first graders and brought in just 4. The club will be relying on untried youngsters more than they have in the past 2 years if their luck with injuries runs out in 2016.

2015 Stats Leaders
Tries: Alex Johnston – 17
Try Assists: Greg Inglis – 13
Line-breaks: Alex Johnston – 21
Tackle-breaks: Greg Inglis – 78
Average metres: Greg Inglis – 145.4
Average tackles: Glenn Stewart – 37.9
Adam Reynolds has kicked 345 goals at 84.15% in his four-season career, placing him at the very top of the goal kickers list in regards to conversion rates. The only issue for Souths is a lack of a backup kicker, with Inglis (9/16 career goals) and Sutton (7/12 career) as the only other players in the squad to have ever kicked goals in the NRL.

The coach
Ever since Michael Maguire arrived at the Rabbitohs, the club has appeared in 4 straight finals series for the first time since the Clive Churchill coached sides of 1967-72. He is an astute manager of his players and has been capable of getting every ounce out of them for the betterment of the side – but whispers he may be on the outs with the playing group, coupled with last year’s disappointing title defence, has put Maguire under considerable pressure.

The captain
Greg Inglis retains the capataincy and why not, the brilliant back thrives under pressure.

Rep drain
Only Greg Inglis played in State of Origin last year and while he was away, Alex Johnston deputised at fullback for him capably, thus keeping the disruption as minimal as possible considering the size of Inglis’ omission. Johnston could be in line for a NSW debut, however, as could Adam Reynolds with the Laurie Daley’s No.7 options somewhat in disarray. Meanwhile, don’t count McInnes and Cook out of the Blues No.9 discussions.

The draw
The Rabbitohs have a tough draw in 2016 which will see them play all of the 2015 top 8 bar Melbourne and Cronulla twice and of the bottom 8 they will face dramatically improved Manly and Parramatta twice. The two bottom-placed sides of 2015, Wests Tigers and Newcastle, will play Souths twice. Souths will face archrivals the Roosters twice in the first six rounds, before playing both 2015 grand finalists in succession. Their run home was a weak point in 2015 and it doesn’t get any easier this year, facing Melbourne (A), Warriors (A), Cronulla (H), Newcastle (A) and Canterbury (A).

Big clash
The Round 5 clash with Manly at Brookvale. This game is the first of four tough games, three of which are in enemy territory. If they aren’t at their best here, they could very well lose a crippling four in a row. They play Manly (A), Sydney (H), North Queensland (A), Brisbane (A).

Best line-up
1.Greg Inglis 2. Alex Johnston 3. Kirisome Auva’a 4. Bryson Goodwin 5. Aaron Gray 6. Luke Keary 7. Adam Reynolds 8. George Burgess 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Sam Burgess 11. Chris Grevsmuhl 12. Paul Carter 13. John Sutton. Int: 14. Tom Burgess 15. David Tyrrell 16. Jason Clark 17. Damien Cook.

**This article appeared othe Commentary Box Sports Website**

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