2018 Review: South Sydney Rabbitohs

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Our 14th review of all sixteen NRL clubs takes a look at the resurgent Rabbitohs and their incredible form spike in 2018 with Andrew Jackson.

After back-to-back 12th place finishes, few people gave South Sydney any chance of returning to the glorious heights of 2014 this season. With a new rookie coach at the helm, expectations were low.

Since tasting the ultimate success four years ago, Michael Maguire had struggled to re-invent the Rabbitohs. Instead, they had become predictable and their premiership window slammed shut once more.

2018 was different. Under new mentor Anthony Seibold, this was a reinvigorated Rabbitohs side. Club legend John Sutton had become an asset on their lethal left edge, alongside Cody Walker, Greg Inglis and Robert Jennings. George and Tom Burgess were finally just running straight and hard, errors no longer holding them back.

And then there was Damien Cook - who finished 2017 as a reserve-grade hooker and only a year later was a State of Origin series winner and Provan-Summons Medallist.

Everything seemed to be falling into place. The Rabbitohs marched towards the top of the ladder on the back of a nine-game winning streak and looked unstoppable. But then the injuries started to hit. And once teams figured out that stopping Cook meant limiting the go-forward of the Burgess brothers, Souths had to reinvent themselves again. They were unable to do so and were punished by the Roosters in the preliminary final, failing to score a single try in the 12-4 loss.

When considering pre-season expectations though, this was still a massive step forward for the Rabbitohs after years of underachieving. The challenge now is to ensure it isn't a one-off.

Turning point

It may have come very late in the season, but South Sydney's agonising 29-28 loss to Melbourne in week one of the finals put a serious dent in their premiership chances. The Rabbitohs led by six points late in the game and victory would have seen them straight through to the preliminary finals. And Seibold certainly would have liked his chances against an understrength Cronulla outfit.

Instead, Souths did it again once more the following week and just held on for a 13-12 win over the Dragons. It meant that, after draining themselves in back-to-back one-point thrillers, the Rabbitohs stood little chance of matching the well-rested Roosters for energy.

What worked

While it may not have been as effective by the end of the year, South Sydney's left-side attack was responsible for much of their early-season success. 36 per cent of their tries in 2018 came down the left edge, most of them coming off perfectly-executed set plays.

Opposition teams thought they had numbered up correctly, only for Robert Jennings to streak down the touchline and score in the corner. The width and depth they played with allowed this to happen and it was only strengthened by the evasiveness of five-eighth Walker. 

Adam Reynolds also took his kicking game to another level in 2018. The 28-year old hadn't been the most consistent performer in recent years, yet he controlled games perfectly this year. More impressive, however, were his spiralling bombs, which would have likely broken aerial records. His towering terrors were the undoing of some of the game's most accomplished outside backs, including Melbourne fullback Billy Slater, and gave his chasers plenty of time to transition from attack into defence. 

What didn't

While the Burgess brothers stepped up in 2018, Sam in particular was still prone to making a couple of key errors that halted momentum and handed possession back to the opposition. It was an issue for all of South Sydney's big men but Sam was the biggest culprit, making four errors in their 29-28 loss to Melbourne.

As alluded to earlier, the Rabbitohs also struggled to adapt once teams figured out how to stop their left edge or contain Cook. Both are the main sources of South Sydney's points, and without them, it was up to Siebold to formulate a different plan of attack. Yet, the Rabbitohs didn't have one - or a successful one at least. And it cost them a spot in the grand final as, despite having several sets on the Roosters' line, Souths failed to crack them. 

Best player

You can't go past Cook here. As well as getting through plenty of work in defence, averaging 42 tackles a game, the 27-year old also topped all other number nines in the competition when it came to dummy-half runs (173), line breaks (11) and tackle busts (74). He also ranked second in tries (4) and try-assists (10) behind Issac Luke and Josh Hodgson respectively. 

While Cook's impact was limited in the finals series, he still often found a way through defensive lines. After a breakout season, however, the pressure is now on to see whether Cook can continue to develop in 2019. At the start of this year, he wasn't even locked in as the club's first-choice rake. Now, he is not only South Sydney but the entire state's top pick in the number nine jersey. With all eyes on him and expectations high, it will be interesting to watch Cook's development next year.

Rookie

Having only played nine games in 2017, the majority off the bench, 2018 was somewhat of a breakout year for Cameron Murray too. The 20-year old made 25 appearances and was arguably South Sydney's most dangerous forward in the finals series. After an impressive year, where he proved he can handle the weekly rigours of the NRL, Murray has all but secured a starting spot in the side given Angus Crichton's departure to the Roosters. 

Feeder club round-up

It was a tough year for feeder club the North Sydney Bears, who finished second-last in the NSWRL Intrust Super Premiership. Things weren't much better for the Bears in the Under 20's, with the Jersey Flegg Cup side finishing second-last as well.

It was announced a couple of months ago that the Rabbitohs would now join the ISP and Flegg themselves, effectively ending their affiliation with the Bears. North Sydney will now pair up with Souths' arch-rival the Roosters in 2019.

Looking ahead

With Seibold off to the Broncos in 2020, the coaching situation may prove an unwanted distraction for the cardinal and myrtle next year. The focus must be on finding an extra element in their game so that the side is not overly reliant on Cook or their left edge. Their bench also lacks the size and impact of a true premiership contender.

After exceeding expectations in 2018, Souths must now prove that they didn't simply overachieve and that this is instead a sign of better things to come. 

Potential 2019 line-up

based on current signings

1. Alex Johnston
2. Campbell Graham
3. Greg Inglis
4. Dane Gagai
5. Robert Jennings
6. Cody Walker
7. Adam Reynolds
8. Tom Burgess
9. Damien Cook
10. George Burgess
11. John Sutton*
12. Cameron Murray
13. Sam Burgess

14. Tevita Tatola
15. Dean Britt
16. Zane Musgrove
17. Hymel Hunt 

* Note: Sutton is yet to officially re-sign for his 16th season at the Rabbitohs.

2018 Results

1
South Sydney Rabbitohs 20
Warriors 32
L
2
Penrith Panthers 18
South Sydney Rabbitohs 14
L
3
South Sydney Rabbitohs 34
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 6
W
4
South Sydney Rabbitohs 20
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 16
W
5
St George Illawarra Dragons 16
South Sydney Rabbitohs 12
L
6
Sydney Roosters 14
South Sydney Rabbitohs 26
W
7
South Sydney Rabbitohs 42
Canberra Raiders 22
W
8
South Sydney Rabbitohs 20
Brisbane Broncos 24
L
9
Newcastle Knights 18
South Sydney Rabbitohs 36
W
10
South Sydney Rabbitohs 24
St George Illawarra Dragons 10
W
11
North Queensland Cowboys 19
South Sydney Rabbitohs 20
W
12
Warriors 10
South Sydney Rabbitohs 30
W
13
South Sydney Rabbitohs 22
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 14
W
14
Gold Coast Titans 16
South Sydney Rabbitohs 18
W
15
Parramatta Eels 24
South Sydney Rabbitohs 42
W
16
South Sydney Rabbitohs 21
North Queensland Cowboys 20
W
17
South Sydney Rabbitohs 0
BYE
18
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 6
South Sydney Rabbitohs 24
W
19
Wests Tigers 22
South Sydney Rabbitohs 6
L
20
South Sydney Rabbitohs 26
Parramatta Eels 20
W
21
South Sydney Rabbitohs 30
Melbourne Storm 20
W
22
South Sydney Rabbitohs 14
Sydney Roosters 18
L
23
Brisbane Broncos 38
South Sydney Rabbitohs 18
L
24
Canberra Raiders 24
South Sydney Rabbitohs 12
L
25
South Sydney Rabbitohs 51
Wests Tigers 10
W
Finals Week 1
Melbourne Storm 29
South Sydney Rabbitohs 28
L
Finals Week 2
South Sydney Rabbitohs 13
St George Illawarra Dragons 12
W
Finals Week 3
Sydney Roosters 12
South Sydney Rabbitohs 4
L

By the Stats

34
Competition Points
16
Matches Won
0
Matches Drawn
8
Matches Lost
582
Points Scored
437
Points Conceded