BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 24: Cody Walker of the Rabbitohs celebrates with team mates after scoring a try during the NRL Preliminary Final match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Manly Sea Eagles at Suncorp Stadium on September 24, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The South Sydney Rabbitohs finally cracked a grand final in 2021, but they couldn't fall over the finish line. Here is their season review.

Pre-season predicted finish: 1st
Actual finish: 3rd (Runners-up)
Record: 20 wins (+322)

2021 Season snapshot

South Sydney entered the 2021 season with big expectations. Following three straight preliminary final losses they were expected to go one further this season.

The Bunnies season was far from perfect but ultimately they made a grand final. One they probably should have won given the circumstances of victory.

They started as borderline favourites to lift the crown. Some clubs wilt under the pressure. Not so this South Sydney side.

With a stacked side and one of the best coaches in the business, the Bunnies were the leader of the chasing pack for 25 rounds.

Star player: Cody Walker

Cody Walker would not have looked at all out of place with the Dally M medal around his neck just over a month ago.

Walker set a record for try assists in a season with 33. He also had 46 line break assists, scored 16 tries, forced 15 dropouts and ran for 90 metres per game.

Yes he threw an unfortunate pass in the grand final but nine times out of ten that finds his player on the chest and it's try time. I'd argue game over and title won.

Walker was immense in 2021. He was often the difference in games. That Tom Trbojevic, in a season hardly ever replicated, had "only" 28 try assists shows just how good Walker was.

CODY WALKER
Five-eighth
Rabbitohs
2021 SEASON AVG
1.4
Try Assists
0.6
Tries
117.7
Kick Metres

Breakout star: Keaon Koloamatangi

Koloamatangi would start the season from the interchange bench but his efforts were such that he was promoted to the starting side, where he would remain.

The 23-year-old second-rower quickly became one of Souths main men. He would run for over 130 metres per game, broke 31 tackles and scored three tries.

He also made 653 tackles at 96 per cent. In a faster game where a big frame becomes a target, Koloamatangi managed big minutes and big output.

He's now a rusted on member of the Bunnies run on side.

Rugby League Outlaws present their Season Finale and talk all the big issues

Positives

Blake Taaffe Unearthed: The big question all season at Redfern quickly became 'who will replace Adam Reynolds when he exits the club'?

For most of the season it looked as though Souths had made a major error not moving heaven and earth to re-sign their superstar number seven.

Then came the opportunity for young Blake Taaffe to play regular first-grade footy, something he was more than up for.

Although playing mainly at fullback, Taaffe's ballplaying skills are such that he will very easily fill the number seven role next season if called upon.

At very least he has the ability to step into the Benji Marshall role on the bench. Either way he has an exciting future and looks a real prospect.

Forwards lifted: With all due respect to the Bunnies forwards, on paper, their pack didn't look as though it would match up with the Storm, Panthers and Roosters.

Cameron Murray is a top three lock and Jai Arrow's signing was a huge in, but otherwise the pack just didn't scream domination.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 15: Cameron Murray of the Rabbitohs watches on during the round 14 NRL match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Penrith Panthers at ANZ Stadium on June 15, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The aforementioned Keaon Koloamatangi became an instant star, Mark Nicholls is twice the player now that he was in the pre-season, while Tevita Tatola and Thomas Burgess played beyond every expectation.

Jaydn Su'A and Jacob Host played their part in a big way also, rounding out a pack that more often that not very much matched it with the best.

Negatives

Was this their last chance?: Souths have made three straight preliminary finals (a fourth this season), and finally a grand final in 2021. There is, however, a feeling that there's change afoot at Redfern.

Wayne Bennett has handed over the reins to a rookie coach while superstar halfback Adam Reynolds has left the club. His obvious talents aside he has largely been the heart of the club for a decade.

Add to that exiting Origin stars Jaydn Su'a and Dane Gagai and the experience lost with the retirement of Benji Marshall and it will be a very different side next year.

The Bunnies will still be an elite side next season but you take arguably the game's best ever coach, a superstar halfback and multiple rep-quality players out of any side and they will struggle.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 16: Adam Reynolds of the Rabbitohs passes during the round 23 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium on August 16, 2018 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Conceded 50 twice: The Bunnies only lost four games across the NRL regular season. They lost only to Melbourne (twice) and Penrith (twice).

That said, Souths conceded the dreaded 50 points not once but twice in those four losses. We all know the stat about conceding 50 and you can't win the title.

Souths were downright embarrassed to the tune of 50 points to nil by the Storm in Round 9. They were missing some serious cattle so people largely pushed it to the side.

The 56-12 loss to the Panthers two rounds later came with a full strength Bunnies side. At the time many wrote Souths off.

Season Grade: A

The mighty Rabbitohs fell one conversion away from forcing extra time in the decider. If not for that intercept pass... Who knows?

The Bunnies had a marvellous season. They entered the season with big expectations and they lived up to them. By all rights they could be standing here today with the trophy.

Until the finals they looked a step behind the top two sides but stepped up and upset the Panthers in the first week of the finals.

I genuinely believe that if Latrell Mitchell hadn't been suspended for that horror tackle on Joseph Manu, the Bunnies would be premiers.

The grand final came down to a touch of class.

Bunnies fans can be extremely proud of their sides efforts. I'm sure once the pain of a grand final loss wears off, they will be.