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Souths are going to win the NRL premiership... next year

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Roar Guru
9th March, 2021
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With the start of the season agonisingly close, we can still dream of upcoming glories.

Before that heavy clash with reality, our imaginations may vivify wild glories and hypothesise outlandish scenarios that might – just might – come true.

So as a Bunnies fan, forgive me for falling into a somewhat euphoric mindset, imagining the red and green ticker tape come October.

But my natural pessimism, coupled with a year of dashed hopes by a myopically blinkered British government, mean that I’m going to hold off buying that champagne for now (I never specified October of which year).

On paper, this is the strongest side we’ve had since our 2014 triumph. Latrell Mitchell demonstrated his utility with ball in hand. His injury before the play-offs became one of those ‘what-might-have-been’ ruminations.

Alex Johnston is particularly impressive on the wing, and if he can put the contract talk to one side, I’m expecting big things from captain creative Adam Reynolds.

Adam Reynolds

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

The shrewd acquisition of super-sub Benji Marshall, but more importantly Jai Arrows from Gold Coast, adds depth to a squad that looked jaded and out of ideas come the big time.

So why my hesitancy? Mindset, attitude, call it what you will – what we’re currently lacking is an almost intangible winning mentality.

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It might sound odd with Mitchell, Tom Burgess, Johnston and Marshall all being in possession of premiership rings. But just as the Panthers – dominant throughout 2020 – couldn’t get over the line, we’re still a year’s worth of adversarial experience away from forging that truly winning formula.

On any given regular-season day, we could beat any of the other 15. But finals footy is another beast, a fine art honed by Craig Bellamy and Trent Robinson.

It will have been 11 years since Wayne Bennett guided the Dragons to grand final victory, and while no one is writing off the greatest coach in living memory, I’m not filled with confidence of him smiling at the Olympic Stadium in seven months’ time.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, the succession of Jason Demetriou in 2022 could provide that final vigorous push. Again, I’m aware that Bennett’s successors have had a mixed record. But Ivan Henjak (Brisbane), Steve Price (St George Illawarra) and Rick Stone (Newcastle) all inherited sides firmly on the counter-cyclical decline after Bennett-induced peaks.

But even if this was a causative pattern, there’s a difference with Souths. There is still room to improve, and I’m confident that the long-term Bennett-Demetriou duo can carry it out. The assistant has been in the building throughout Bennett’s tenure, and already has proven coaching acumen.

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Wayne Bennett

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Albeit in the lower leagues, he has guided Keighley, Cairns-based Northern Pride, and the Illawarra Steelers to glory. He already has an NRL title under his belt after his assistant coaching role with the Cowboys.

The Souths’ hierarchy, who I’d hope would know far more about this sort of stuff, placed enough trust in him to announce his future appointment two seasons before his first-grade debut.

In short, he’s proven himself as head honcho in the state championships, been mentored by the very best coaches, is familiar with the set-up to ensure the continuity of an already very decent side, but can provide a fresh impetus to take the team to the next level.

All of the above would need to be in conjuncture with a few more signings. The squad needs added depth to compensate for the inevitable injuries and allow for rotation that keeps the whole team fresher ahead of the finals.

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There are a number of ageing and contractually uncertain players that need replacing or pinning down. Such long-term planning is best overseen not by the outgoing septuagenarian, but rather from the new-ish kid on the block seeking to evolve a solid side in his own mould.

Of course, I’d love all of the above to be a load of old codswallop (and I’m sure many will be typing that opinion below). Demetriou could fail in the transition like so many bib-carriers have before. There’s no real telling whether he’ll follow in the graduate footsteps of Trent Robinson or Ivan Henjak.

On the flip side, I’d like nothing more than to go undefeated, nil the Chooks in the grand final, and be left with metaphorical egg on my face. But the pragmatist in me sees far better chances of securing ultimate victory in 2022.

Who knows, I might even be allowed to celebrate in a pub by then.

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