SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 17: Damien Cook of the Rabbitohs looks on during the NRL trial match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Wigan at ANZ Stadium on February 17, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Another day, another round of pre-season predictions writing off the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

I myself have the 2014 Premiers finishing 11th while nrl.com and news.com.au have the Rabbits finishing a lowly 14th.

Based on their 2017 efforts even the most one-eyed fan of the famous side would struggle to predict a return to finals footy for the first time since their title-winning 2014 season, but as I’ve given it more thought I’m starting to think the Bunnies are the NRL’s finals dark horse.

Roosters fans, and truthfully the majority of the NRL audience may laugh that statement out of the building, but hear me out.

Most people, myself included, are judging the 2018 Bunnies on the efforts of their 2017 counterparts. That’s not totally unfair as the best way to predict is upon reflection. That said, the 2017 Rabbitohs outfit was one without the great Greg Inglis.

OK, technically he played what, 8 minutes, or so of the 2017 season, but unfortunately, a season-ending injury in the first game cut his involvement painfully short.

On the positive side is the fact that Inglis was able to step away from the game for the first time in a long time to heal both in a physical and mental sense. I know it is cliche, but by all reports, Inglis is fresh of body and mind and should be even more dangerous as the new season kicks off.

It’s no secret that the Rabbits struggled to post points last season. Their 464 was better than only the four sides below them, as well as the painful-to-watch Bulldogs, but the return of Greg Inglis should provide a massive boost in that regard.

The 2017 South Sydney back-line lacked the quality of Inglis and that of new recruit Dane Gagai. The Queensland and Kangaroo point-scoring machine will line up in the centres for the red and green and should provide an avenue of attack they have not enjoyed since their premiership-winning season.

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With all due respect to the likes of Bryson Goodwin and Aaron Gray, both more than decent first graders, but Gagai is at another level. Unfortunately, the 27-year-old spent much of last year being chopped and changed around a struggling Knights back-line, but his position in the centres is assured.

That consistency will allow Gagai to produce his best footy. That is something that Bunnies fans should be very excited about.

It’s possible that rookie coach Anthony Seibold may opt for an all-Queensland rep centre pairing by placing Inglis at centre. The talk is he will start at fullback but given his injury concerns, it may be worth taking him out of the heavy collisions that are part of the modern day fullback role.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 18: Alex Johnston of the Rabbitohs breaks away to score a try during the round 24 NRL match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the New Zealand Warriors at ANZ Stadium on August 18, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

If Inglis does make the switch, the very talented Alex Johnston may finally make a permanent move to fullback. He has all the attributes and talent but has been overlooked due to his try-scoring abilities on the wing. I think a move to fullback would benefit the side. If not, he will score plenty of tries outside Gagai on the wing.

The third option at fullback, although I’d much prefer to see him in the halves, is Cody Walker. The 28-year-old is coming off a career-best year despite, like Gagai, being shifted around the back-line to fill a position. His best footy came in the halves and I’d like to think he will start in the number six jersey.

Walker’s off the cuff style of play is exactly what the Bunnies need. He will be looked upon to provide plenty of early ball to Inglis, Gagai and co. and has a huge task ahead of him. Given that he has signed a long-term team at Redfern, all of the talented number six’s attention can be on helping the bunnies return to finals footy.

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Up front, the Rabbits have one of the game’s premier forwards in Sam Burgess. I’m sure Channel 9 has made us all well aware of his talents, it doesn’t need repeating.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JULY 29: Angus Crichton of the Rabbitohs is sent to the sin bin during the round 21 NRL match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Canberra Raiders at ANZ Stadium on July 29, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

The real excitement up front comes in the form of 22-year-old Angus Crichton. The future rep certainty had a magical 2017 season and, despite signing for the Roosters in 2019 and beyond, should continue that form this season. I’m really excited to see what Crichton can produce.

Then, of course, there is former New South Wales and premiership-winning halfback Adam Reynolds. He will have a huge role to play in 2018, as all halfbacks should, but his kicking game should really allow the Bunnies to dictate where the game is played.

All of the above said, for mine, the linchpin for the 2018 Rabbits is one, Damien Cook.

In my mind, Cook is a must starter for the Bunnies and must play 80 minutes. As good as Farah has been, it’s time to run with the criminally underrated Cook in an 80-minute capacity. The Bunnies looked better last year when Cook was on the park as he provided a spark that few other number nines in the competition can match.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 13: Damien Cook of the Rabbitohs speaks to a team mate as he sits on the bench during the NRL Charity Shield match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium on February 13, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

If he is given the opportunity to play 80 minutes he’ll play for the Blues this season. Big call but I stand by it. He has the complete game. He can tackle all game but he can also cut defences to pieces out of nowhere.

He is the man who can spark the Blues into action, and it’ll come on the back of red-hot form in the red and green.

Perhaps calling the Bunnies a potential dark horse is not all that funny after all.

11 COMMENTS

  1. It also depends on who the starting forwards are and who the bench is because they need to make a good impact. The backline is easily named with Inglis, Johnston, Gagai, Hunt/Fuimaono, Kennar/Graham, Walker and Reynolds. Cook as the 80 minute hooker is a given as well and Sam Burgess in the forwards.

  2. With the amount of team changes for this year there are probably a dozen teams that can be classified as ”dark horses”. Sometimes it only takes a ”missing link” to improve a side dramatically, sometimes it takes a huge cleanout to improve.

    I don’t make predictions these days (because I have been wrong so many times in the past), but as bulldogs4ever states that if Souths can get their forward rotation right, then they are well and truly in the ”dark horse” category. I am hoping that the new attacking style introduced this year will improve Souths chances for a better result than 2017.

  3. 1: D Cook
    2: A Johnston
    3: D Gagai
    4: G Inglis
    5: R Jennings
    6: C Walker
    7: A Reynolds

    9: R Farah

    • I don’t know what you are smoking but Cook is NOT a fullback and poor old Robbie is yesterday’s hero. Cook to replace Farrah and add Richie Kennar, reshuffle and you are correct for South’s backline.

      • Cook has played fullback before and the games I seen him in he killed it
        Johnston is a better winger then fullback and Inglis is a better centre then fullback

  4. Soon to be playing in their 109th season I see them as an unknown entity. It all comes down to the players adapting to the new tactics of their new coach. In reality it could go either way. When Barrett took the reigns over at Manly his first season was a learning experience and because of that they missed the semi’s. Sometimes it clicks straight off like Hagen at Newcastle, Stuart and Robinson at the Roosters when in their first season they won premierships, however the majority of the time it usually like Barrett takes some time to gel.

    Predicted Finish could be anywhere between 14-7th

    • The Rabbitohs are celebrating their 110th year since their inception in the NSWRL competition BEFORE the Roosters. The fact they took 2 years out of the game to give the Roosters a chance to catch up (and they still have not) is beside the point.

  5. It is difficult for fans of other clubs to judge what is actually happening as they are not at the coalface to see what is happening behind the scenes.
    It is so easy to make a prediction based solely on 2017 or even 2016 but with a different coach and Junior Rep players stepping up to First Grade with a sprinkling of new young Junior Rep recruits to replace the old tired legs of players past.

    With the Rabbitohs, you can not simply judge on what happened in 2017.
    2018 is a 100% difference in attitude, passion, professionalism.
    Anthony Seibold’s new approach and his attacking Systems put in place, for those who saw the 2 trial games against Wigan and then the Mergers should realise that we are a completely different and well-organised outfit.

    Adam Reynolds didn’t even play but we won fairly comfortably
    In seasons past our win ratio without Reyno is only 1 from 3.
    That aside, Cook, Gagai, Johnston, Walker and even Hymel Hunt look like a different bloke.

    GI is running free on both knees, His troublesome Right knee of a few years ago is fixed up and last season Left Knee is as strong as ever.

    Young up and coming forwards like Mark Nicholls and Junior Tatola will compliment the 4 Internationals already in our pack and add Fuimaono, Gus, Murray and Sutton and you have one of the biggest and also most mobile pack in the comp.

    Ball movement, linebreaks at ease and what players who can finish a movement.
    Speed to burn out wide.

    Plenty of depth and backup in all positions now.

    The defence will be the key to the Rabbitohs finishing position as the best defence normally wins the comp but the Rabbitohs may well concede 3 trys but we will score 5 or 6.

    As above it is difficult predicting an actual finishing spot as I haven’t seen what other clubs are doing but these fool on these websites and in the Mainstream Media who are making predictions on last season and with “ifs and maybes” who say we will finish between 11th to 16th are definitely ill-informed and they have ZERO idea at all.

    Personally, I think we will win more games then we lose

  6. The problem with my boys is too much money locked up in the burgess bros. We need to move on the twins and use the 500k each to bring in some quality bookends. Too many mistakes and penalties each game.

    If Sam doesn’t like it his 800k can be combined with Sutton’s however much (after he retires this season), plus the rest from finally ditching Farah used to retain Murray and Fuimaono and bring in a gun back rower to complete the starting 11, 12 & 13.

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