2010 Position: 9th (11 wins, 13 losses)
Gains: Greg Inglis (Melbourne Storm), George Burgess (Bradford Bulls, ESL)
Losses: Colin Best (Cronulla Sharks), Jaiman Lowe (Melbourne Storm), Luke Capewell (Gold Coast Titans), Beau Champion (Melbourne Storm), Jamie Simpson (Huddersfield Giants, ESL)
For years now “Rabbitohs” had been used as a punch line to many NRL jokes, however that has changed as the Bunnies continued their re-emergence as the off field champions, once again setting the bar for the NRL in efficiency, sponsorship and sustainability.
Unfortunately for the club, this has failed to translate into on field success, with the club once again failing to reach the finals in 2010. This leaves the Rabbitohs with just one finals appearance in the last two decades.
However with an aggressive recruiting campaign in recent years, Souths have assembled one of the most formidable forward packs of the modern game with a seemingly perfect mix of talent, youth and experience. Seasoned campaigners such as Roy Asotasi, Michael Crocker, Luke Stuart and Scott Geddes are joined by a new generation of stars in Sam Burgess, Dave Taylor, Isaac Luke and Ben Lowe. Ben Ross also looms as a potential wildcard after spending 2010 in rehab for a neck injury. And with Mrs Burgess producing more potential forward stars then the QRL and NZRL combined, the future looks even better.
With the forwards sorted, questions remain on whether the Rabbitohs back line can deliver. The recent losses of Beau Champion, Luke Capewell and Colin Best may be the spark required to shake Rhys Wesser, Fetuli Talanoa and Nathan Merritt back to their try scoring best. And when you add the new signing of Kempsey product Greg Inglis into the mix and the emergence of talented youngster Dylan Farrell, the backline looks capable of producing some guaranteed try scoring mayhem on tired defences.
Of greatest concern for Bunny fans must be the pairing of John Sutton and Chris Sandow in the halves. Only a few years ago Sutton was touted as a potential Origin bolter for the Blues, and while his form hasn’t been terrible, he seems to have stalled in recent years. Sandow is also struggling in the transition from his rookie status to a seasoned star.
However the Bunnies have an ace up their sleeve in veteran coach John Lang, even though Lang himself has signalled that 2011 is likely to be his last as a first grade coach, he has the experience and track record in developing an underperforming halves combination into premiership material. In particular Langs tutelage of Preston Campbell helped transform the fringe first grader into a Dally M winning 5/8th at Sharks and later delivered a premiership at Panthers. Question is, does the old dog still have enough left in him to put Sandow on the same path?
What went right in 2010: Souths again continued to be the envy of many NRL clubs by maintaining their status as the only profitable Sydney based NRL club. They also lead the NRL in memberships with the club also gaining world wide publicity when Jon Bon Jovi declared on stage he had recently become a full paying member of the Bunnies. The good publicity continued with Oprah being photographed in a Rabbitohs cap while sailing with Russell Crowe in Sydney Harbour.
What went wrong in 2010: Despite their recruiting efforts and off field successes, Souths were still unable to make the finals, finishing ninth on the ladder. At times their backline struggled to find cohesion, with Sandow and Sutton unable to find a rhythm. Although they didn’t set the season alight, they spent most of the season inside the top 8 and a finals position still looked assured until Isaac Luke suffered a dislocated shoulder in a training mishap. At the time Luke was arguably the inform hooker of the comp and was outright second for the Dally M behind Darius Boyd.
Final say for 2011: For years Souths have been promising a new era is upon them, only to fall back into old habits and then failing to produce. The difference about this new era is it actually seems to be working. Souths have shaken off their old image, their fans are no longer looking back at past victories or achievements. The clubs owners, players and fans seem to believe that the best is now in front of them. For the first time in 30+ years, they may be right.