2021 South Sydney Rabbitohs Team Review

South Sydney enjoyed a successful 2021 season making it to the Grand Final, but ultimately fell short to Penrith on the night and said goodbye to their coach and captain.

2021 Club Record

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Wins: 20
Losses: 4
Competition Points: 42 (3rd)

2021 Player Achievements

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Most Tries: Alex Johnston – 30 Tries (first NRL)
Most Points: Adam Reynolds – 260 Points (second NRL)

Season Summary

South Sydney were brilliant at times in 2021, racking up some big scores against a lot of sides, but again struggled to beat the top two. Going back to 2016, Souths have won just once against teams that eventually finished the season first or second. This was emphasised in Round 9 and 11 when they were beaten by Melbourne 50-0 and Penrith 56-12. Souths’ four losses came against the Storm and Panthers and they beat every other team, often by some big margins: like back-to-back wins of 60-22 and 50-14 in Rounds 19 and 20.

So it was quite the surprise when the Rabbitohs turned the 2021 Finals Series with a hard-fought outstanding win over Penrith in the first week of the finals. They piled the pressure on Penrith and held on to win 16-10, and the subsequent 36-16 win over Manly in the preliminary final meant that they finally made in past week three of the finals after three consecutive years of exits at that point.

The biggest talking point of South Sydney’s season came in their Round 24 clash with the Roosters, when Latrell Mitchell hit former teammate Joey Manu late, hard, and high. The Rabbitohs would eventually go on to win that game (over their most bitter rivals) 54-12, but the damage to their season was done. Mitchell copped a suspension that ended his season and many claimed Souths couldn’t win the title without him. You could argue that they were right, as although Souths made the 2021 NRL Grand Final, they lacked that killer edge in the big game, a stage where Mitchell thrives.

Cody Walker was the star player for Souths in 2021, and indeed one of the standout players in the NRL. He finished third in the Dally M overall tally and was named Five Eighth of the Year. And why wouldn’t he be? He laid on 33 Try Assists in 2021 and 46 Line Break Assists (10 clear of second) and scored 16 tries on top of that. And that grand final try was one of the great pieces of individual play this season. His was simply sensational and unplayable at times, and was very unlucky not to be rewarded with a NSW jersey. Why Wayne Bennett moved him to fullback during the season was a bit of a mystery, but it was a short-lived experiment of three games. He has recently re-signed with the club, fending off potential interest from The (Redcliffe) Dolphins, and will be as important as ever in 2022 with Adam Reynolds moving on.

Other players to star this season was Alex Johnston – as ever. The competition’s leading try scorer with 30 tries, he missed a handful of games late in the season too. He was helped having the Souths halves and fullback serving up great scoring opportunities, but what a finisher he is. From Rounds 12 to 18 he scored 15 tries and only failed to score in six matches.

Reynolds had one of his better seasons for South Sydney in 2021. He broke the South Sydney point-scoring record and was a great foil to Walker. Sadly, he is moving on to the Broncos in 2022 and he wasn’t able to secure a fairytale finish by nailing the sideline conversion in the grand final to square up the scores. Also leaving in 2021 was Benji Marshall, who had a great final season in the NRL. Marshall will head back to the Wests Tigers in 2022 in a non-playing ambassador role.

Among the unsung heroes were Campbell Graham, who is developing into one of the NRL’s finest defensive centre, Keaon Koloamatangi was always dangerous, and even honest toilers like Mark Nicholls had a great 2021. But Cameron Murray – when fit – was a superman for the Rabbitohs and must be considered for club captain heading into 2022.

Looking forward to 2022, there’s plenty of changes for South Sydney with their long-term club captain gone, and head coach Bennett leaving as planned, ending up at the Dolphins for 2023. Assistant coach Jason Demetriou will take over next season and the pressure will be on early to prove he’s the coach to take the club to that next level. He has won the NRL State Championship with two different clubs, and has been Bennett’s student for five seasons, so is capable of winning some trophies.

The loss of Reynolds will be huge, but in Blake Taaffe they have a promising young player, and the Rabbitohs also took a chance on Broncos scapegoat Anthony Milford. He could be a really good number 14 off the bench next season. Milford aside, Souths have been up a few fringe players, so you could argue their squad is weaker in 2022 on paper. But if Walker has another season like 2022, and have Mitchell back for the full season, they should be mighty competitive again.

NothingButLeague Player of the Season – Cody Walker

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Matches: 25
Tries: 16
Try Assists: 37
Tackle Bursts: 57
Line Breaks: 10

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