24/04/2024

Rabbitohs players embracing after a finals victory in 2021. Photo: nrl.com

The Rabbitohs fell agonisingly short of premiership glory in 2021. With a new season brings renewed hope of taking the next step in 2022.

The Rabbitohs came agonisingly close to a first premiership since 2014 last year and will be looking to go one better this time around with a new coach and captain at the helm.

Last year

Souths had an outstanding season in 2021, but fell just short on Grand Final night, losing 14-12 to the Penrith Panthers.

After starting the year with a defeat in Melbourne, the Bunnies won their next seven, including a 26-16 win over their arch-rivals, the Roosters, which was far more comfortable than the scoreline suggests.

In round nine, they came unstuck against Melbourne for a second time, losing 50-0, with Josh Addo-Carr helping himself to six tries.

History was against the Rabbitohs after that defeat, as no team has ever won a premiership after conceding 50 points in a match, and it was to happen a second time for Souths, when they lost 56-12 to Penrith in Dubbo in round 11.

That defeat sparked a change in the Rabbits’ though, as they won 12 of their final 13 regular-season games to finish 3rd on the ladder, just two points off the top spot.

In week one of the finals, they faced the unenviable task of taking on the Panthers again, having been beaten twice by them during the regular season. A dogged defensive effort laid the platform for a 16-12 win and a week off before a prelim final with Manly.

A superb 20-point win meant a Grand Final with the Panthers, who claimed their third premiership by the narrowest of margins.

Winger Alex Johnston had a remarkable season, scoring 30 tries in 22 games to lead the NRL scoring charts, while skipper Adam Reynolds became the club’s all-time record points scorer in his 10th and final season with the club.

Cody Walker was named five-eighth of the year at the Dally Ms after a superb season, and veteran Benji Marshall proved to be a shrewd signing during his one and only year at the Bunnies before retiring.

Six Rabbitohs players picked up Origin jumpers in 2021, with Latrell Mitchell having the biggest impact, scoring four tries across the three-game series.

Squad changes

Ins:

Michael Chee Kam (Wests Tigers), Siliva Havili (Canberra Raiders), Anthony Milford, Isaiah Tass (Brisbane Broncos)

Outs:

Braidon Burns, Joshua Cook (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Troy Dargan, Brock Gardner (Released), Dane Gagai (Newcastle Knights), Joe Lovodua (Hull FC), Patrick Mago (Wigan Warriors), Benji Marshall (Retired), Tautau Moga, Jayden Su’a (St George Illawara Dragons), Adam Reynolds (Brisbane Broncos)

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Track watch

Fullback Latrell Mitchell is the only certain absentee for round one, as he’s still serving a suspension from 2021. Liam Knight and Isaiah Tass didn’t take part in full training until late-February, but both should be fit for the opening weekend.

New captain Cameron Murray is also in the final stages of rehab and should be fit to start in round one.

The biggest question mark is around who replaces Reynolds in the halves following his departure. Lachlan Ilias is the favourite for the jersey with Blake Taafe expected to fill in at full-back for the suspended Mitchell in the opening two rounds, but when Mitchell returns, it could see Taafe shift to his more natural position in the number seven jumper.

What to expect

The Rabbitohs are something of an unknown quantity heading into 2022, having lost a number of big-name players, plus the legendary coaching figure of Wayne Bennett.

With a number of inexperienced players coming into the squad, plus a rookie head coach in Jason Demetriou, the Bunnies aren’t expected to hit the heights of 2021 this time around, but they may just surprise a few people.

Big names like Mitchell, Walker and Damien Cook are still around, and prop forwards Mark Nicholls and Thomas Burgess both had stellar seasons in 2021.

If they can cover the big exclusions of Reynolds and Dane Gagai the Rabbitohs should remain around the mark.

It’s a big year for?

Cody Walker

Despite having a career best year in 2021, the pressure of leading the team and controlling the game falls squarely on Walker this season.

For the entirety of Walkers career he has had the luxury of having Reynolds by his side, taking the pressure off the expansive playmaker allowing him to attack the defence with his passing and leaving the kicking duties to Reynolds.

If the Rabbitohs are going to continue their run of success they will need Walker to remain at his elite best while taking on some of the other responsibilities that are required in his position.

Coaching pressure index

Low

With it being his first year at the helm, the pressure will be off Demetriou as he looks to mould the team to his gameplan.

A proud club, the pressure will come fast if the Rabbitohs drop down the ladder to far at the end of 2022.

Predicted round one lineup

Veteran winger Josh Mansour could be a surprise inclusion if Johnston or Jaxson Paulo miss out.

Siliva Havili or Peter Mamouzelos could make the bench as cover for Damien Cook.

If Isaiah Tass isn’t quite fit to make his debut then expect to see Taane Milne come in at centre.

Ladder range:

4th – 6th

Having lost the most successful coach of all time, plus a host of big-name players, Souths are unlikely to be getting into the top-four again.

However, when you compare their roster with some of the teams around them, they should make the top eight, and probably a little better than that.

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