South Sydney Rabbitohs 2017 Preview
2016 Review - South Sydney came back to earth with a thud in 2016, missing the finals for the first time in five seasons and the first time ever under Michael Maguire. Despite winning their opening two games, the Rabbitohs slumped to a 12th placed finish, winning just 9 games and losing 15. The Rabbitohs managed to win their final four games of the season to at least salvage something from the wreckage and give their fans some optimism heading into 2017. Before that final month, Souths were on a wretched 9-game losing run, which saw the side plummet from in contention for the finals to second last position.
Under Michael Maguire, the Rabbitohs had prided themselves on their resilience and their defensive fortitude, however that went out the window in 2016 with the side coughing up 30 points or more on seven occasions and suffering a number of blow out defeats. The Rabbitohs conceded 96 tries for the season at an average of 4 per game. The highlight of the Rabbitohs' season came in Round 1 when they smacked rivals the Roosters 42-10. The low light was undoubtedly the shocking 54-4 loss to the Raiders at ANZ Stadium, as the Rabbitohs conceded 50 points for the first time under Maguire.
Gains - The Rabbitohs major off season signing was, without doubt, veteran Wests Tigers and NSW Origin hooker Robbie Farah. Farah had experienced a turbulent past couple of years at the Tigers, spending time in Reserve Grade. While Farah should add some steel and experience to the Rabbitohs in the middle of the park, he will face stiff competition from Damien Cook for the starting Number 9 role. Cook excelled in the role when promoted to the starting side in the final month, which coincided with the Rabbitohs' winning streak. Other than the signing of Farah, Souths did not manage any other big name scalps, signing a number of journeymen and younger players including Tyrell Fuimaono (Eels), Robbie Rochow (Knights), Connor Tracey (Sharks), Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers), Luke Kelly (Eels), Anthony Cherrington (Redcliffe Dolphins), Robert Jennings (Panthers) and Brett Greinke (Broncos).
Losses - Souths once again have lost some valuable depth over the off season, with the likes of Joe Burgess (Wigan), Luke Keary (Roosters), Paul Carter (Roosters), Kirisome Auva'a (released), Cameron McInnes (Dragons), Nathan Brown (Eels) and Michael Oldfield (Panthers) all departing. While you could not describe these players as superstars, many of them were in Souths best 17, so I think it's a concern for South Sydney as their depth will be stretched further in 2017. Maguire finally lost patience with the wayward couple of Auva'a and Carter as Souths lacked discipline in 2016. With Cody Walker impressing in the halves, the Rabbitohs also parted with experienced five-eight Luke Keary who seemed to have fallen out of favour with coach Michael Maguire.
2017 Player To Watch - George Burgess - I feel if Souths are to make anything of this season they need this big Englishman to get back to somewhere near his barnstorming best. Last season he averaged just 87 run metres per game and, with Souths losing further depth in their pack, they really need Burgess to be asserting himself more in the middle of the field. Burgess also made a number of unforced errors in 2016 and needs to look after the football a lot better. With the loss of the likes of Ben Teo, Chris MacQueen and Nathan Brown, Souths have lost plenty of mongrel in their pack, and Sam Burgess cannot do things on his own as evidenced by last season.
2017 Fixture Strength - (Tough) The Rabbitohs have copped the rough end of the stick in terms of the dreaded 5-day turnaround with four - the most of any club in 2017. Two of those 5-day turn arounds come off the back of taxing trips to Cairns and Perth, making things even worse for South Sydney. The bonus for the Club in this year's draw is the Rabbitohs play their final seven games of the season in Sydney, which would ensure a good run to the finals if they are in contention. The Rabbitohs will get great exposure in 2017 with 14 out of their first 20 games scheduled for Channel 9 on Friday Night or Sunday Afternoon. Souths also play six games out of a possible eight against last year's Top 4.
2017 Forecast - 14th (7-8 Wins)
I really can't see where the optimism for South Sydney is coming from, to be honest. When I look at their gains and losses, I think, despite signing Robbie Farah, their losses far outweigh their gains. I think there is going to be far too much pressure on the likes of an ageing Greg Inglis and the likes of Adam Reynolds and Sam Burgess to carry a side that looks lacking in quality and depth. If one or two of those guys miss any football, South Sydney will be in desperate trouble this season. I think this side lacks some pace in the outside backs and up front I don't see enough power and grunt to support Sam Burgess.
The likes of Cody Walker and Damien Cook really brought some energy and quality to Souths in the latter part of 2016, and those two guys need to go to another level again if the Bunnies want to be in contention for the finals. I can see Souths starting the year ok, carrying on a bit of momentum from last season, however I think this team will really feel the pinch around Origin time, and their season will peter out to an alarming Bottom 4 finish, which will place enormous pressure on Michael Maguire.