Another season of close but no cigar for the South Sydney Rabbitohs, who – for the third season in a row – fell one week short of the grand final.
2020 Club Record
Competition Points: 24
2020 Player Achievements
Most Tries: Alex Johnston – 23 (Top NRL try scorer 2020)
Most Points: Adam Reynolds – 221 (Top NRL point scorer 2020)
More than a month after the NRL finished, it is still hard to decide whether South Sydney’s 2020 season was a disappointment, over-achievement, or a fair reflection.
The Rabbitohs finished the regular season in sixth, but that finishing position looked like it might be higher when they were on a mid-season winning streak and playing some exciting rugby league. At that stage Souths looked unstoppable, culminating with a 38-0 defeat of Parramatta. But the now-traditional loss to Melbourne (they have now beaten Melbourne just five times in 33 matches since the Storm joined the NRL, and just three times since 2010), was followed up weeks later by the real 2020 momentum killer: a 26-16 upset loss to the Bulldogs in the second last round of the regular season. It ended their chances of a top four finish.
They followed that loss up with a record 60-8 thrashing of their arch rivals the Sydney Roosters in the final game of the season. They also racked up 84 points in their first two knockout finals games, against Newcastle (46-20) and Parramatta (38-24), only to lose to Penrith in the preliminary final.
This was all after a slow start to the season, which saw the Rabbitohs drift in and out of the top eight, and they were one of just three teams to lose to the Broncos in 2020. Although that was in round two (before the COVID-19-enforced lockdown) when the Broncos weren’t so awful.
The big news for the start of the 2020 season was Latrell Mitchell making a big off-season move from the Roosters: there was the potential of it turning into premiership-winning masterstroke, or a disruption. But in the end he turned in some good performance along with some underwhelming efforts, but – in keeping with the overall hot-and-cold season for the Rabbitohs – he suffered a season-ending injury in August.
The highlight of the season has to be the 60-8 win over the Roosters; a loss their rivals from Bondi never quite recovered from. After trailing 4-0 early, Souths turned it on, scoring ten tries in the end, with five to Alex Johnston, who won the Ken Irvine Medal as top tryscorer. Albeit at least one of the tries was a gift. But who could begrudge him?
Talking of the PNG International, one of the best pieces of player movement for the future was re-signing Johnston to the club for another two seasons. It looked mid-season that the winger was going to be squeezed out of the club, but luckily for both player and club a solution was found and Johnston could continue at a club he didn’t seem to want to leave, and Souths kept an extremely reliable option at the back. Johnston was no five-try wonder though: he topped the NRL’s 2020 stats for line breaks with 23.
Thomas Burgess won the Burrow fans’ appreciation award, and the remaining Burgess brother playing for South Sydney toiled away honestly through the season, and the lack of his twin brother George at least made it easier to tell it was Thomas in 2020. The Rabbitohs’ prop topped the run metres for South Sydney in 2020 by nearly half a kilometre, and almost 900 metres further than the next best forward.
His brother Sam, who had previously medically retired, almost talked himself into returning to the game after being involved as a assistant coach in the NRL Bubble, but this talk died down after some off-field issues caught up with him.
Staying in the forward pack, Keaon Koloamatangi was the club’s John Sattler Rookie of the Season, who did well after playing only 14 games. Damien Cook was electric from dummy half throughout the season in most games: his 186 dummy half runs were almost 80 ahead of the next best hooker in 2020. Cook also topped the tackle count this season, one of only two players to break 1,000 total tackles. Interestingly, former Souths players Api Koroisau and Cameron McInnes were second and third best tacklers, and current Rabbitoh Cameron Murray was fifth best.
NothingButLeague Player of the Season
It is hard to go past Cody Walker as the Rabbitohs’ player of the season. During their great mid-season run, the five eighth was involved in just about everything, with 24 try assists from his total of 21 games, and scored another 10 tries on top of that. His combination with halfback Adam Reynolds and hooker Cook was sublime at times, and on their great run barely a point-scoring situation went by without one of those three contributing, and at times all three. It helped that Reynolds rediscovered his running game, and the two halves turned themselves and the Rabbitohs into a great attacking outfit.
Walker’s form even led to a recall to the NSW State of Origin side for game two, which worked out well as he starred, only to replicate his disappearing act in the series decider at Lang Park, similar to his first State of Origin game a few seasons back. Hopefully the disappointment from that State of Origin decider doesn’t affect his NRL performances as much it did after his NSW debut two seasons ago.
2021 GAINS AND LOSSES
Jai Arrow (Gold Coast Titans, 2024), Jacob Host (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2023), Taane Milne (New Zealand Warriors, 2022).
Tom Amone (released), Kurt Dillon (released), Bryson Goodwin, Jack Johns (Newcastle Knights), Ethan Lowe (retired), James Roberts (Wests Tigers), Ky Rodwell (released), Bayley Sironen (New Zealand Warriors).