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Can the Rabbitohs go back to back in 2015?

Rabbitohs forward John Sutton. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Roar Guru
3rd March, 2015
19

No team has won consecutive premierships since the NRL competition began in 1998 following the Super League war.

Are the South Sydney Rabbitohs about to become the first to accomplish the feat in 2015?

The Brisbane Broncos were the last to truly achieve the difficult task back in 1992/1993. They also won the Super League grand final in 1997 when the competition was divided, then the NRL competition the following year.

The Rabbitohs are making all the right noises and showing all the right signs, but why has it proved so difficult to go back to back in the modern era?

While obviously there can be any number of varying reasons, let’s take a look at some of the key contributing factors that can prevent a side from doing so and how they relate to the Bunnies in their pursuit of history this year.

Player movement
The line-up of defending premiers can often be altered by players moving on due to salary cap restrictions or the lure of other codes. The Rabbitohs have most notably lost Sam Burgess and Ben Te’o, both to rugby union, plus Luke Burgess to the Sea Eagles, which arguably decreases the strength in the engine room.

They have however picked up Glenn Stewart from the Sea Eagles and Tim Grant from the Panthers, both Origin representatives who bring their own strengths to the table.

With John Sutton staying in the forward pack permanently, Queensland Origin player Chris McQueen will likely be promoted from the bench to replace Te’o in the second row, a pretty handy replacement.

Stewart will take Burgess’ lock position and offer more finesse to the role.

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And with Grant on the bench looking to make an impact after a quiet year at the Panthers in 2014 due to injury and a falling out with the coach – joining Thomas Burgess and probably Jason Clarke, Ben Lowe or impressive rookie Chris Grevsmuhl – the pack is still looking big, intimidating, hard-working, and skilful.

Lote Tuqiri turned back the clock in the finals last year but looks to have retired, giving Joel Reddy first crack on the wing. While a very handy winger, Reddy doesn’t have the go forward that Tuqiri offered taking hit ups early in the tackle count, nor the brilliance that Tuqiri managed to pull out of the bag in helping his side to the premiership.

Injuries and suspensions
Kyle Turner is out indefinitely due to a neck injury suffered in the All Stars game and Kirisome Auva’a has been suspended until at least Round 22 due to a domestic violence incident.

As noted above, the Rabbitohs have a strong pack even without Turner and his loss would have a minimal impact to the side, if any.

Auva’a will be replaced by Bryson Goodwin who, while not as explosive, is a very dependable and crafty centre who should create some chances for Joel Reddy outside him.

This edge of the field could be considered the most significant weakening in the Bunnies’ side from last year’s grand final, but with Inglis sliding into the backline it increases the potency ten-fold.

Auva’a will likely be back when his suspension is over looking to make up for lost time. Injuries and suspension is of course an ongoing concern throughout the season and can strike at any stage to cruel a side’s chances.

Scandal
While a great deal was made about the John Sutton and Luke Burgess arrests in Arizona and the alleged attempted cover up by Souths, the matter has largely been resolved.

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The club has been fined by the NRL, Burgess has moved on to another club, and Sutton will not miss any games after the NRL confirmed they were happy with the disciplinary action already taken.

Apart from Sutton losing the captaincy to Inglis, which is arguably the right move for the club anyway, the incident is done and dusted and is unlikely to have a negative bearing on the team’s chances in 2015 in the way the Sharks’ peptide scandal did or the Titan’s drug saga is likely to. If anything, it may provide extra motivation for Sutton in his move back to the pack.

Premiership hangover
There is of course the mental element in going back to back. Players must attempt to overcome the high of the previous season, come back down to earth, do the hard work necessary and stay focused and committed week in week out to reach the top again.

Coach Michael Maguire looks to be ensuring the Rabbitohs aren’t resting on their laurels, seemingly intent on winning everything coming their way.

This was shown in the Auckland Nines, where he sent a strong team, and the World Club Challenge, where the side that dominated Super League champions St Helens was essentially the side that will line up for Round 1.

While the Charity Shield against the Dragons was a draw, the Rabbitohs were without five of their biggest names in Adam Reynolds, Greg Inglis, George Burgess, John Sutton, and Glenn Stewart, yet still managed to turn it on when it mattered.

They came back from twelve points down to make it a draw against a near full-strength Dragons side.

Making Inglis captain, while no doubt having in part been a reaction to the Arizona incident, was a shrewd move by Maguire that will ensure the team has a fresh outlook in being led by one of the game’s finest. He will be looking to take his game to an even higher level now he has the ‘c’ next to his name.

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Player burnout
Several Souths players were called up for representative duties in the Four Nations and took part in the tournament, including Greg Inglis, Issac Luke, Dylan Walker, and George and Tom Burgess.

Player burn out after the slog of a long campaign, rep duties, then pre-season fixtures could be one of the key hurdles for Michael Maguire’s men come the back end of the season and the finals series.

He has been cautious with his biggest asset, Inglis, in the pre-season, as well as easing his star recruit, Glenn Stewart, back into the action.

The fact that only one of their possible top 17 enters the first round of the season injured would suggest Maguire’s team of support staff are doing an exceptional job, and that he has used strong team’s in most pre-season fixtures shows he has confidence in his staff to get the players through the season.

Still, it is a long year, and the Rabbitohs will need most if not all of their key players on the park come September if they are to go all the way.

Game plan
Being the premiers comes with a big target as being the team to beat. Opposition coaches will have been studying the footage over the off season in an attempt to close the gap between their teams and South Sydney and find a strategy to beat them.

Maguire will need to adjust his game plan accordingly. Having both Stewart and Sutton in the forward pack may hint to a more ball-playing strategy around the fringes from the forwards rather than just crushing teams up the middle as they did with their power game of 2014.

But as long as they big men go forward, they have a very creative hooker, a skilful and exciting halves combination, and talented outside backs like Inglis, Walker, and Alex Johnston who can play off the cuff and do serious damage when given half a chance.

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Luck
Over the course of the competition, every premiership side needs their fair share of luck at some stage or another. Luck with the bounce of the ball or the call of the referee can sometimes be pivotal in helping a team on their road to glory.

Or, when luck is on the opposition’s side, assisting in a team’s demise.

Taking the above factors into account, I think the Rabbitohs will go close, very close. In fact I think they will make it all the way to the grand final. But unfortunately for them and their fans, the rigours of the competition and one or more of the factors above will come into play to contribute to them falling agonisingly short.

What are your thoughts Roarers, can the Bunnies do it? Or is there another factor that may conspire against them in their quest?