The South Sydney Rabbitohs enter 2024 under a world of pressure after one of the more disappointing campaigns you're ever likely to see.

2023 had the Rabbitohs at the top of the table 11 rounds in, and then, they somehow went on to miss the finals.

It was a second half of the season riddled by turmoil surrounding the club's ability to put issues to one side, and defensive fragilities which put them among the worst in the competition.

But the potential is there to improve, and that is evident from the first half of the campaign. Still, a bold recruitment call, pressure on the coach and a key spine member, and injury questions, leave the Rabbitohs with a stack of work to do as we head into 2024.

Here are the key questions which will shape the path forward.

Will Lachlan Ilias retain the number seven?

While there is no doubt Lachlan Ilias will start the 2024 season in the number seven, the halfback is under pressure to retain the role moving forward.

He may be the best option at the club, but that doesn't mean he is locked in to retain it. His 2023 was poor. There is no getting around that fact.

Despite being a highly-rated junior, he hasn't really made the NRL grade yet, and must do in 2024. The signing of Jack Wighton means there is an option which presents him moving into the seven and Ilias being dropped.

That'll be a tougher sell with centre Campbell Graham injured for at least half of the season, but the Rabbitohs simply can't sit by and accept another finals miss this year.

Jason Demetriou will have plenty to think about if the season starts slowly, and Ilias' form doesn't see a dramatic uptick from where it was last year.

Can South Sydney's defence improve?

The Rabbitohs looked like a team who weren't the same outfit as the one who started the 2023 campaign by the end of it.

Whether it was problems on or off-field, fans can only hope they have been fixed during the off-season. One of the tell-tale signs though that whatever was happening was more than a form downturn was the simple fact that South Sydney's defence blew out.

Instead of conceding well under 20 points per game, as they did to lead the competition after 11 rounds, the figure blew out disastrously during the second half of the year.

They say defence is an attitude thing, and nowhere was that more prevalent than at the Rabbitohs as they collapsed at both ends of the park and things changed off the field in the coaching staff.

There is certainly the talent and experience to be humming near the top of the table again, but it's going to start in defence, and that means it has to start from Round 1, even if they don't manage to pick up a win.

Will Latrell Mitchell stay fit?

One of the other major problems for the Rabbitohs during the second half of the 2023 season was Latrell Mitchell's fitness.

The star fullback, who was due to return to the State of Origin arena with the Blues, wasn't able to play there and barely registered a game after the halfway point of the year with the Rabbitohs.

It was the second season in a row that Mitchell missed a chunk of the year and the second season in a row that the Rabbitohs frankly fell apart without him.

Defensively, the role of the fullback is critical, and there is little second-guessing exactly how much Mitchell brings to any team he plays for in attack.

If Mitchell can't stay fit in 2024, it will be a major blow to South Sydney's campaign. It's not totally unsalvagable, but if the track record is anything to go by, there is little doubt around his status as the most important player based at Redfern.

Who plays the utility role?

Coach Jason Demetriou faces one of the trickiest decisions anywhere in the NRL this year as he tries to find Peter Mamouzelos playing time.

The issue, of course, is that Siliva Havili already controls the 14 jersey, and given his ability to play as a lock or prop, it means there is little to no need for a third dummy-half option in the side, particularly given how many minutes Damien Cook plays.

But would Mamouzelos add to the team in areas Havili can't?

That's the question Demetriou must ask. There is little doubt that after re-signing recently Mamouzelos is happy to bide his time in the NSW Cup if need be, but the modern game doesn't require dummy halves playing 80 minutes. 90 per cent of clubs simply don't do it, and Cook is far better when he is bursting with energy, rather than trying to hang on through an entire game.

If Demetriou can afford a bench with both Havili and Mamouzelos on it, it may well be worth exploring.

Is the forward depth good enough?

South Sydney's starting forward pack is exceptional. That much we know. The likes of Tevita Tatola, Cameron Murray, Damien Cook, Jai Arrow and Keaon Koloamatangi are all among the best in their respective positions anywhere in the NRL.

But unfortunately for the Rabbitohs, that's where the fun stops.

Thomas Burgess is the one name not mentioned there who has been a strong performer for the Rabbitohs over the years, but there is every chance he is dragged into the starting team this year, leaving South Sydney with a lot of work to do in the forwards off the bench.

There is young potential in Tallis Duncan and Davvy Moale, the addition of Sean Keppie from the Manly Sea Eagles and the potentially solid performances of the likes of Jacob Host, but there are a number of 'what if's' for the Rabbitohs in the forward pack this year.

Given the other questions around their spine, attack needs to be generated by forwards dominating, allowing the likes of Murray and Cook to go to work, setting Cody Walker up to have a season similar to the one he had in 2021.

It's an easy game on paper, but there are real questions about how the Rabbitohs fare once the starters sit on the pine.