As the National Rugby League season draws closer, we look at how the South Sydney Rabbitohs will go in 2018.
The Rabbitohs come into 2018 with a second straight finals miss, finishing 12th on the table with nine wins and 15 losses in 2017. The team had the potential to push for the top eight with a healthy team entering the season, but an ACL injury in round one to Greg Inglis effectively ended their campaign prematurely.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Gains – Jesse Arthars (Storm), Dane Gagai (Knights), Jacob Gagan (Knights), Richard Kennar (Bulldogs), Jesse Martin (Sea Eagles), Mark Nicholls (Storm), Vincent Leuluai (Storm).
Losses – Bryson Goodwin (Leigh), Jack Gosiewski (Sea Eagles), Aaron Gray (Sharks), David Tyrrell (Brisbane Easts), Anthony Cherrington, Brett Greinke, Luke Kelly, Dane Nielsen, Toby Rudolf (released), Sitiveni Moceidreke (Raiders)
First Five – Warriors (H), Panthers (A), Sea Eagles (H), Bulldogs (H), Dragons (A)
WHAT TO EXPECT:
2018 is the first season the Rabbitohs are in an official rebuild since 2012, and even then they finished third on the ladder that year, which was Michael Maguire’s first in charge. What was unfortunate for Maguire, similar to Ivan Cleary’s departure from Penrith, was his last season was filled with injuries and still resulted in a firing for the coach. Nevertheless, if there is a rookie coach poised to excel in 2018 it would be Anthony Seibold, given his experience as an assistant with the Queensland Origin side, the Storm, the Sea Eagles as well as working under Michael Maguire with the Rabbitohs last season. Seibold has made it clear he wants to revamp the team’s offensive focus, and with the arrival of Dane Gagai, the team should be more threatening out wide.
The positioning of Greg Inglis will be interesting, as Alex Johnston staked his claim for the number one jersey last year. Maybe a return to the centres partnered with Gagai, and moving both Hymel Hunt and Robert Jennings to the wings could be the winning formula in solidifying their backline, something that has been a tough task since 2015.
It’s the year of Damien Cook
For the first time since Isaac Luke was at the club, the Rabbitohs seem to have a first choice dummy half. Damien Cook has struggled to maintain a starting role in the club since his arrival, with competition with Cameron McInnes in 2016 and Robbie Farah since last year. His performance in the Charity Shield affirmed his superiority over Robbie Farah right now, with his great speed coming out of dummy half and ability to pull apart the defence on full display. With a strong halves combo when healthy and a range of reliable forwards, Cook has the guys around him to propel his game better than ever.
Dane Gagai is without a doubt the biggest addition to the Rabbitohs side this year, and could be the most important piece for their future. With the departure of key names since their premiership win in 2014 and plenty of reshuffles in the starting team, the backline has struggled to remain as potent as they once were. Gagai’s vast skillset makes him a utility back capable of moving into any position and playing at a high level. Playing alongside top flight players like Greg Inglis, Alex Johnston and Adam Reynolds, which was not the case at Newcastle, will not only give the side a more options, but will help him excel at his own game better than ever.
Although Dean Britt was signed at the end of the 2017 season he only played in one game, so his first real involvement with the Rabbitohs will come this year. Britt is a former Storm under 20s player who has been involved in representative football for Queensland, as well as bouncing around the Queensland and NSW Cups. A man with great ball running ability, he should no doubt develop into a first team member with a Rabbitohs unit that has the aging John Sutton and Sam Burgess, and a departing Angus Crichton currently in the ranks.
A look at their draw
Overall the Rabbitohs have a fairly ordinary draw with a relatively easy start, but will be faced with a difficult end.
The Rabbitohs have three home games in their first four (granted one is in Perth), including only taking on two teams who finished in the top eight a year ago with games against the Sea Eagles and Panthers. From rounds six to eight the Rabbitohs have a tough stretch against the Roosters, Broncos and Raiders; teams all be vying for a top four spot. From there Souths have two winnable games against the Knights and Dragons, before three games against the Cowboys, Warriors (in New Zealand) and Sharks. The Rabbitohs shouldn’t be impacted too badly by Origin, but there is a possibility Inglis, Reynolds and Gagai will be selected, meaning selection headaches for coach Seibold for their matchup with the Sharks.
Souths will have two weeks to prepare for games against the Bulldogs and Tigers at ANZ Stadium, four vital points from two winnable games that will be on offer. To round out the season, Souths will have the Eels, Storm, Roosters, Broncos, Raiders and Tigers, six extremely difficult games that will no doubt determine their fate.
Top Tryscorer – Alex Johnston
Top Pointscorer – Adam Reynolds
Club Player of the Year – Damien Cook
WHERE WILL SOUTH SYDNEY FINISH?
The big key for the Rabbitohs is health – how many guys will they have to replace throughout the year? The last two seasons being plagued with injuries have hurt their chances of making the finals, but hopefully for Seibold he can have an easy selection process for the majority of the season. If that number can remain very low then they have every shot at the top eight. There are many factors that point towards improvement, and with Seibold likely to be given a bit of leeway in his first year, Souths could take a few other teams off guard. They have the team, it is just that seven other teams outside the top four say that as well, making them pretty ordinary in comparison.
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