Having lost their seventh game in their last ten starts against the lowly Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, coach Wayne Bennett has since described the bunnies season as “not terminal yet but it’s getting close.”
Having started the year extremely strongly under Bennett winning ten of their first eleven matches, Souths looked set for another strong year inside the top four, with arguably the competitions form halves pairing over the first two months of the season, Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker, relishing playing off the back of the go-forward provided by the Burgess boys and Cameron Murray.
However, after a shock round 12 loss to the Eels and the Origin period taking its toll, the wheels have fallen off at Redfern.
“We’ve just lost some momentum – we did at Origin time and it hasn’t come back,” Bennett told NRL.com following the Rabbitohs third loss in a row.
“We’re not playing our best football.”
“We’ve played some good football this year, we wouldn’t be where we are if we hadn’t.”
Seemingly channelling the Dragons after starting the 2019 season like a runaway train before falling away dramatically, Souths have only won three of their last ten games, with one of those victories being pulled out of the jaws of defeat after scoring a last-second try to defeat the Dragons.
While some may be confused as to how the Rabbitohs can go from so dominant to downright clunky within the space of two months, if you peel back the curtain and look at the numbers, it’s quite clear why.
As previously mentioned, since the beginning of the Origin period everything has fallen off a cliff for Souths, with the red and green regressing in every major metric.
On the face of things, Souths are scoring an average of 1.4 tries less per game since round 12 as well as conceding an extra 6.2 points.
While this is obviously not good, with Souths effectively having a 12-point swing in terms of points against, the underlying numbers make for similarly worrying reading and provide better context as to why Souths are now struggling at both ends of the field.
Over the first eleven rounds of the season, Souths tore opposition teams apart thanks to their instinctive attackers, with the likes of Damien Cook, Cody Walker, and Alex Johnston being able to play fast, eyes up football running at a scattered defensive line. They were able to do this thanks to the platform laid by their forward pack, utilising a combination of power and stamina, the Burgess boys would scatter would-be tacklers to all parts while the likes of Cameron Murray and Liam Knight would be the consistent work-horses in the middle third.
This combination obviously proved a fruitful one, with Souths pacey backline and spine thriving thanks to the quite simply incredible numbers being put up by their forward pack.
However, since that fateful game at Bankwest Stadium, the Rabbitohs have had less possession and as a result have been running for an average of more than 100 fewer metres per game, while also throwing fewer offloads. Consequently, this their strike weapons have been stifled, with the bunnies making 1.4 fewer linebreaks per game due to having to contend with a more set defensive line.
While it would be harsh to lay the blame for Souths recent woes squarely on the shoulders of their forwards, particularly with their outside backs being far less affective getting them out of trouble and not sharing the ball-carrying load as they were, if the Rabbitohs big men don’t start winning the battle of the middle again and providing the platform for Walker, Reynolds, and Cook to play off the back of, this sickness that has infected their previously superb style of play could prove to be terminal.