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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.