Trying to atone for preliminary finals exits in the past three seasons, the South Sydney Rabbitohs will be hoping they can beat Manly this weekend and book a spot in the grand final.
On the cusp of reaching their first grand final since their 2014 premiership, the Rabbitohs are eagerly preparing for a matchup with the ascendant Sea Eagles.
Knowing full well the results of the last few years and the hurdle that the Rabbitohs can’t quite get past, head coach Wayne Bennett played down assertions that reflecting on it too much would have hindered the team’s preparations.
“There’s no certainties in what we do. The past is the past and we can’t change that,” Bennett told media at a press conference on Thursday.
“It’s not something that we’ve been dwelling on or talking about, we’ve just been focusing on this match and this is the one that matters.”
“The way we prepared in the last couple of days, the way we’ve prepared all season, the way we’ve played our football, the position we found ourselves in at the end of the season, they’re all things to give you confidence about taking the next step.”
Bennett has been in the top job at South Sydney since 2019, taking the club to three consecutive preliminary finals and coupled with the club’s 2018 preliminary final under Anthony Seibold, this season marks four consecutive appearances.
Despite this success, the side has been unable to progress to the grand final, but for the head coach, the momentum has been building up to something greater that he hopes will be achieved this year.
“We’ve been there three years, we’ve just got to get past this point, that’s our challenge… go that one step further,” he said.
“They’ve been a wonderful team to work with and to their credit, they’ve got themselves back here this year which makes it four years in a row actually, what an achievement.”
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The seven-time premiership coach believes that South Sydney hasn’t received the plaudits that it deserves as a result of its form over the past four seasons – and the decade overall -, opposed to some of the other clubs in the league who have had similar amounts of success.
“You talk about ‘the Roosters have been a tremendous team’, ‘Storm has been a tremendous team’ and ‘Penrith’s a tremendous team’ you look at all the stats, I mean, win-loss over the last four years South Sydney are probably one win behind two of those teams and maybe one win in front of some of them,” Bennett pointed out.
“So we’ve won as many games as those three, Storm are a little bit in front of everybody else but the Roosters, Penrith and ourselves are certainly about one win apart from each other.”
Since 2018, Melbourne has won 73 of its 93 regular season matches whereas Penrith (65), South Sydney (64) and Sydney (63) follow behind within the same timeframe.
Pressed on the achievements by the Rabbitohs to feature in the post-season four years in a row – and make a preliminary final in seven of the last 10 seasons -, Bennett commented that the feat may be lost or underplayed on some from outside the walls of the club.
“We’re not the ones giving the credit out so you’ve got to speak to those that are giving it out,” he said.
“We just play it and we do it, we don’t work the stories, we don’t get out there and pump ourselves up, that’s for somebody else to make a decision.
“But I just know what they’ve achieved and as I said, it suits us to be undersold if that’s the way it has to be, there’s no dramas.”
Looking towards the matchup ahead against Manly, Bennett says it will be a tight contest, and had plenty of praise for South Sydney’s opponents, and its coach Des Hadler, a long-time friend and teammate.
“We’ve got a wonderful relationship and I admire what he’s done and I love what he’s done this year,” he said.
“Certain coaches are made for certain clubs. Clubs get it wrong a lot of times. Des is made for Manly. He played there, he understands it better than anybody else and going back there for him was easy.”
In seven preliminary finals as a player and a coach, Hadler is undefeated but according to Bennett, it’s a statistic that has little bearing as he prepares for the contest ahead.
“That’s a bit of a myth stat that one. What about all the prelim finals you don’t make as a coach?” he queried.
“It’s just all about the ones you make, what about the ones he didn’t make? I’m in the same boat. That’s a myth statement that one.”
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