Sorry Souths fans. Take a giant red marker and run it through 2022. Your premiership window hasn’t just closed. It’s been slammed shut.
In fact, next year could be painful for the Rabbitohs. Pins inserted underneath the fingernails kind of painful.
Having fallen short 14-12 in the grand final against Penrith on Sunday night, the Rabbitohs are up against it heading into the New Year.
Why? I’m glad you asked.
Firstly, Wayne has left the building, and if history is anything to go by, Bennett’s departure will bring an inevitable trough on the rollercoaster.
When Bennett departed St George Illawarra, Steve Price took over. The Dragons missed the finals for two straight years and Price was sacked.
Bennett’s exit from Newcastle was met with years of hurt, while we all remember how the more recent move from Brisbane ended for his successor Anthony Seibold.
Like Price was at the Dragons, Jason Demetriou has been the right-hand man. The successor. Groomed to take over. Here’s hoping Demetriou is the exception to what history has shown.
But the coaching change aside, the major reason the Rabbitohs have blown the chance for premiership glory in the foreseeable future is their roster.
The grand final was Adam Reynolds’ farewell match. He’s Brisbane bound in 2022 and the club hasn’t signed a successor.
The maligned Anthony Milford was offered a lifeline by the Bunnies, but he’s no game manager.
If anything, he’s a similar player to Cody Walker.
What made the Walker-Reynolds combination so brilliant was the balance.
One directed traffic and did the bulk of the kicking, while the other schemed and let his instincts guide him.
Even if Souths want to go to market, there’s no-one remotely close to the calibre of Adam Reynolds available.
He’s a top-tier playmaker. Without him, they’re extremely vulnerable.
There’s also the risk of Walker carrying baggage into next season following the intercept pass he threw to Stephen Crichton.
It had shades of Brett Kimmorley-Matt Bowen in Queensland’s famous Origin victory in 2005. Kimmorley didn’t throw a cut-out pass for almost 18 months after that.
I hope, for Walker’s sake, that pass doesn’t have the same impact.
Souths are also losing Jaydn Su’A to St George Illawarra and Dane Gagai to Newcastle.
Gagai has been a potent strike weapon for the club over the last four years. His contributions cannot be undervalued.
They also have Benji Marshall and Mark Nicholls off-contract.
Marshall, who turns 37 before season 2022 kicks off, is yet to officially make a call on his future, while Nicholls, who featured in every game of the side’s 2021 campaign, is unsigned but is reportedly close to extending.
Compare that to the 2021 premiers, Penrith and it paints a picture.
Of the grand final winning squad, Kurt Capewell heads to Brisbane, centre Matt Burton to Canterbury and Tyrone May remains off-contract.
May’s future appears a fait accompli with the utility expected to formalise an extension shortly.
That means their squad remains almost fully intact for season 2022. Their spine is untouched.
Sure, Souths get Latrell Mitchell back next season but who is the game manager? Add in that Alex Johnston, Jaxson Paulo and Cody Walker are all unsigned beyond next year and how the decision makers handle Walker’s future is sure to be a talking point.
Roster management is a difficult but necessary part of the game – an artform. The club has been criticised for not retaining Reynolds.
Time will tell whether that was a decision they’ll live to regret.
For the sake of the Redfern franchise, finding a successor is vital. Keeping Walker beyond next season is too.
There’s plenty to ponder. But no denying that the 2021 grand final is one that got away.
Good luck in 2022 Souths, I fear you’ll need it.