Are the Bunnies the real deal?
Dave Taylor is tackled by Gareth Ellis during the Round 21 (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay)
The last time the South Sydney Rabbitohs made the finals, the Gold Coast Titans were playing their first season in the NRL. The time before that was in 1989, when the Bunnies went one game from a grand final.
Since then, they’ve been relegated to second tier competition, reinstated, bought out by a Hollywood millionaire, and collected four wooden spoons along the way.
We keep hearing diehards in the red and green saying at the beginning of every season ‘this will be our year’. As humorous as this running joke has been for all other fans, in 2012 they might be right.
It’s impossible to ignore the red-hot form of the Bunnies. Finally, a forward pack boasting the likes of Roy Asotasi, Michael Crocker, Sam Burgess and David Taylor are delivering on the potential we all knew they had.
Finally, John Sutton has found a halves partner in Adam Reynolds, widely tipped to be the 2012 Dally M Rookie of the Year, who allows him to play his natural game taking the ball to the line.
Finally, Isaac Luke has the go-forward from his big men to be able to get out of dummy-half and tear up behind the ruck, something he does better than just about any other hooker in the game.
And finally, Souths have a game-breaker. A towering, intimidating Greg Inglis in the number one jersey, providing the potential to score from anywhere on the park, and the intimidation to make opponents want to pass the ball after they make a line-break.
What coach Michael Maguire has done to get the best out of this football team is brilliant. Since the Rabbitohs reinstatement to the NRL, they have had seven coaches, with only Jason Taylor seeing finals football while at the helm. In his first season, Michael Maguire has brought in a new attitude to this football club.
His old-school approach has flushed out the losing culture of the team, and brought in a mindset that has the players expecting, not hoping, to win football matches.
During the hot summer pre-season, the entire Rabbitohs squad from the starting 13, to the under-20s hopefuls, were flogged. Not just your typical post-Christmas workout, I’m talking mentally challenging stuff.
Stuff that makes you really question how bad you want it. By doing so, not only did Maguire get his troops physically fit for the season ahead, but he shook off the monkey that has been on the clubs back for seasons on end.
When the scoreboard, momentum and field position was on their side, their self-belief wasn’t. He took out that self-doubt that for years saw the team only turning in 60 minute performances, stumbling at the final hurdle of finishing off a football match.
Pre-Maguire, the Bunnies seemed to look at the scoreboard and panic when they had the lead. They would stray away from the game plan, hand the ball over, and consequently the two competition points.
Maguire has driven a confidence, almost an arrogance into the heads of his players to create a winning culture among them. In his gruelling pre-season, Maguire laid a foundation for his players to build up from. They had the talent, they had the size, they had the fitness, all they needed was the mental toughness.
Maguire gave it to them.
While many ‘experts’ in the media are singing their praises in terms of premiership credentials, I’m still not entirely convinced. While they are on the back of six straight wins, it must be noted that none of these sides currently sit in the top eight, let alone look like challenging for the title.
Their toughest encounter during this run of form was against the 14th placed Sydney Roosters, in that unforgettable finish at Allianz Stadium, ending 22-24. The last time the Rabbitohs did play a team of higher quality, was in the round 16 clash with the hot and cold Broncos at Suncorp Stadium.
They lost that game 26-12.
Incidentally, it’s not the ability of the Rabbitohs that I question; it’s their own belief that they can win the clubs 21st premiership.
None the less, on the back of six straight wins the Rabbitohs are second on the NRL ladder; two points behind the Bulldogs. TAB Sportsbet have them at $4.50 to take out the title.
The red and white army are now shouting even louder ‘this will be our year’.
Clearly they have no shortage of believers, but only time will tell if they themselves are among them.
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