NothingButLeague is looking at the best buys for each club in the National Rugby League. In this article we look at the South Sydney Rabbitohs whose premiership defence in 2015 started out incredibly strong. Showing no signs of fatigue or a lack of desire, Souths crushed St Helens in the World Club Challenge and emerged victorious at the Auckland Nines. They seemed invincible and after 3 straight wins to start the regular season it seemed like the Rabbitohs had every intention of going back to back. However burn-out set in eventually and recurring injuries or suspensions to key personnel like Adam Reynolds and Issac Luke saw the Souths end the year on a disappointing note, finishing 7th and bowing out in the first week of the finals.
With a lacklustre end to their season, Souths have lost a lot of experienced personnel for 2016 including Ben Lowe, Issac Luke, Chris McQueen and Glenn Stewart as well as the ever-dynamic Dylan Walker but have made a few astute signings to cover the loss of depth in certain positions as well as making room for the return of the man who helped win them their first premiership in 43 years.
3. Michael Oldfield
Position: Wing, Centre
Previous Clubs: Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, Sydney Roosters, Catalans Dragons
Michael Oldfield is a dependable winger with a solid amount of pace, confidence under the high ball and a good finishing ability who will provide the Souths with some quality backline depth for 2016. With Dylan Walker’s departure and either Bryson Goodwin or Aaron Gray to slot into the right centre position, there is a wing spot available for Oldfield to stake his claim to and with the experience he gained playing in Super League, he might have a slight edge over his less seasoned competitors.
2. Damien Cook
Position: Hooker, Fullback, 5/8
Previous Clubs: St George Illawarra Dragons, Canterbury Bulldogs
Damien Cook is a talented young Hooker who spent a majority of the 2015 season languishing away in NSW Cup before finally getting a run in first grade in Round 24 after regular Bulldogs rake Michael Lichaa suffered a season ending injury. Hungry for the chance to prove himself, Cook had a stellar run in his brief time filling in at Hooker and finished the season with an average of 49.5 tackles per game and a tally of 4 tries in 5 appearances. Despite this red hot patch of form, he was not assured a starting spot at the Bulldogs and he decided to take up an opportunity with the Rabbitohs who were in need of a dummy half after the departure of Issac Luke.
Cook brings a wealth of talent and enthusiasm to his new team. He possesses a great attacking prowess with good speed off the mark, keen awareness in support play along with strong defensive skills and a proven ability to play the full 80 minutes which his team-mate and main competition for the vacant No.9 jersey Cameron McInnes has not yet demonstrated at NRL level. With an opportunity to cement a spot in first grade ahead of him, it shall be interesting to see how he performs given a regular run at NRL level.
1. Sam Burgess
Position: Lock, Second-Row, Prop
Previous Clubs: Bradford Bulls, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Bath
The hero of the 2014 Grand Final, Slammin’ Sam returns to Rugby League after a year’s stint in Rugby Union which was unsuccessful. His return will be welcomed with open arms by Souths fans, Russell Crowe and especially the team. Whilst they still managed to finish in the top 8 and have a reasonably successful 2015 season before injuries hit, many media outlets noted the absence of Sam Burgess’ presence as well as Ben Te’o’s left a significant dent in the effectiveness of the Souths forward pack. Burgess led by example from the front and never took a step back, he provided inspiration to his team-mates when they needed it with a couple of strong runs or a bone crunching tackle and intimidated opposition forward packs with his imposing presence. This level of leadership is ultimately the main reason why his absence was sorely missed and exactly what he’ll bring to the Rabbitohs in 2016.
With a year out of the game Sam Burgess will be fired up and ready to get back to playing the sport and the role that he knows well. His short lived and failed Union career will only motivate him all the more to make a big impact out on the field in his return to the Rabbitohs and you can be well assured he’ll be at the forefront of it all.