The Bunnies stats in 2017 do not make for fun reading for fans of the club. A 12th placed finish saw them miss the finals by eight points (and points differential) and ultimately saw Premiership winning coach Michael McGuire removed from his post.
Although they only scored 12 points less than the fifth placed Sharks (with 464) they did concede a massive 564 points. This was better only than the sides that finished below them in the Warriors, Titans, Tigers and Knights. No prizes for guessing where most of the off-season efforts will be focused.
2017 wasn’t all bad for the Bunnies, with the emergence of Angus Crichton and Cameron Murray. Unfortunately the club have lost Crichton from 2019 onward but will be looking to ensure the back row is built around their talented 20 year-old.
Unfortunately injuries and lack of form meant that key players such as Cody Walker had to keep changing positions. He jumped between the halves and fullback on many occasions which really upset the balance of the side. Tom and George Burgess could not re-find their top form and as a result the Bunnies engine room often struggled.
Recruitment Grading: B-
In terms of actual game-day squad changes, the Bunnies have lost Bryson Goodwin and Aaron Gray, while bringing in Dane Gagai. On paper that looks a great swap with the current Origin and Kangaroo outside back set for a monster season in the red and green. His combination with Adam Reynolds/Cody Walker and the fit-again Greg Inglis should see some exciting football being played out of ANZ Stadium in 2018 and beyond. There are a few selection decisions yet to be confirmed by new coach Anthony Seibold but it looks like that Braidon Burns will hold onto the wing spot he shared with Gray last season. Over all the inclusion of Gagai improves the squad, although the Bunnies squad was crying out for more changes following a horror 2017.
Star Player: Greg Inglis
The Bunnies may have only really signed Dane Gagai in terms of instant first grade impact, but they will feel like the returning Greg Inglis is also a new recruit after missing all but one game last season. Inglis sat on the sidelines for the entire season after an injury in round one but looks to have used the time well in taking time to heal both physically and mentally. For the Bunnies to shock the punters this season they really need their main man to fire. His return will complete a brilliant spine of Inglis, Walker, Reynolds and Cook. Souths can build a successful season around their Queensland all time try-scoring record holder but given his struggles over the past year and a bit, they should not expect too much too soon.
Strength: Genuine game-breakers
Inglis, Walker, Reynolds, Gagai, Cook, Sam Burgess. These are names that any NRL side would love to have in their squad. They are all genuine game-breakers capable of deciding a result with a brilliant play when it matters most. Throw in Johnson and Crichton and there is really no reason the Bunnies shouldn’t be in a with a real shout in terms of 2018 finals footy. A lot will depend on how Inglis returns from injury but considering he was won Origin series in the past on one leg, I don’t hold too many concerns for the league legend. Dane Gagai adds an attacking dimension that the Bunnies probably haven’t had in recent seasons.
That ‘I’ word that no NRL fan base wants to hear when describing their side. Unfortunately it’s a word that sums up the Bunnies perfectly. For all their potential brilliance they didn’t seem to be able to make it click week-in, week-out in 2017, and I can’t see any major reasons why that would change moving into 2018. The Burgess twins can be absolutely destructive on any given day, unfortunately you just don’t know whether or not it will be positively or negatively. Adam Reynolds, at his best, is an Origin footballer. Unfortunately he has been unable to repeat his Premiership winning form as of late. Hopefully Dane Gagai’s arrival will ensure regular strong performances out wide.
For all the brilliance in this side, there just seem to be many gaps to confidently predict a top eight finish.
If Greg Inglis comes back and fires from the start then there is no reason for Souths fans to believe a return to top eight action is not possible, but if he isn’t at his destructive best it’s hard to justify South Sydney finishing about the stronger sides.
Souths should play some exciting footy with Damien Cook set for an 80 minute role in the number nine. His feeding of the likes of Burgess and Crichton should set up plenty of opportunities for Walker and Reynolds.
Unfortunately I just can’t see regular, match-winning performances. They’ll win some games and will be closer to finals than bottom place, but over all they won’t be able to match the pace of the top eight or nine sides.