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The Roar



Too much to Bear: Danger signs emerge as Rabbitohs start to unravel after years of near-misses

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18th March, 2024
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South Sydney’s current team is starting to look a lot like North Sydney in the 1990s. 

No, they’re not going to be kicked out of the competition (again) in a few years time. They have the appearance of a team that went oh so close on several occasions but the cyclical nature of the NRL is catching up with them.

The Bunnies are going backwards after five straight trips to at least the Preliminary Final while other teams like the rejuvenated Broncos have rebooted and raced past them in the NRL pecking order like Reece Walsh did to many of their would-be tacklers last week. 

Norths made it one game shy of the Grand Final four times over a seven-year stretch in what turned out to be their final decade in the premiership. Once the nucleus of that side in Jason Taylor, Greg Florimo, Billy Moore, David Fairleigh and Gary Larson started to edge towards the end of their career, the Bears’ decline was dramatic.

It’s only two rounds into the 2024 season but already the Rabbitohs have lost both games, dropped the halfback that they based their future prospects around (after brushing some guy named Adam Reynolds) and the knives are already out – externally not from within the club – for coach Jason Demetriou from the media and disgruntled former players like Josh Mansour. 

Not what you want heading into a showdown with your bitter rivals of the past 116 years, the Roosters, at Allianz Stadium on Friday night.

Key forward Jai Arrow is out for a lengthy stretch after having to undergo shoulder surgery, which puts a massive burden on captain Cameron Murray to carry the pack on the shoulders of the lightweight lock.


They also won’t see Campbell Graham until late in the season – he made 21 line breaks in as many matches down the right edge last year to transform their seemingly lopsided attack, notching 16 tries along the way.

Latrell Mitchell looks fit but after a superb first half in Las Vegas, he has had little impact since and was totally outplayed by Walsh at Suncorp Stadium last Thursday.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 14: Latrell Mitchell of the Rabbitohs prepares to kick during the round two NRL match between Brisbane Broncos and South Sydney Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium, on March 14, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Latrell Mitchell. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Cody Walker is always cranky but he’s looked surlier than ever in the opening fortnight after not being able to conjure up a single line break in the first two rounds as Manly and Brisbane rushed up to shut down any hint of a left-side raid. 

The 34-year-old is hopeful of playing beyond his current contract which runs until the end of 2025 but although he started his NRL career late at 26, age eventually catches up with all but the very best players.

Souths have stuck by hooker Damien Cook and prop Tom Burgess as senior pros in their side but their effectiveness is also not what it once was.

The wildcard for them is the addition of Jack Wighton, one of the NRL’s elite operators when in form. 


He’s been hampered by being in a middling Raiders side the past couple of years which has struggled to reproduce the magic of the 2019 run to the Grand Final or even the following season when they finished one match shy of the premiership decider.

One of the problems that Demetriou needs to solve is to get value for money out of Wighton by putting him in a position where he gets the ball in his hands often, instead of being left of centre at left centre.

Wighton is very similar in style to Mitchell and Walker. Great secondary playmakers but without a steady hand on the helm, the SS South Sydney could be headed for stormy waters. 

Dean Hawkins will be given that task and the No.7 jersey that comes with it after Lachlan Ilias has been dumped to NSW Cup duties following a couple of lacklustre performances. 

It is overstated that champion NRL teams need a representative level halfback. Sure, it’s important but it’s not the be-all and end-all if you have other elite attacking weapons at your disposal.


Brisbane won the 2006 title with a journeyman in Shane Perry at halfback, whose role was to hold his place in the defensive line and in attack, spiral the ball wide to Darren Lockyer, Justin Hodges and Karmichael Hunt.

Canterbury won the premiership a couple of years beforehand with crafty clubman Brent Sherwin pulling the strings and Manly the 2008 decider with Matt Orford, who never played Origin let alone Test footy, steering them around.

Chad Townsend at Cronulla in 2016 is another recent example of how a side can go all the way even if their chief playmaker is not necessarily one of the best in the business.

The fact that Demetriou has jettisoned Ilias after just two rounds for a 25-year-old Plan B option suggests the coach knows he has little time to waste after last year’s ninth-placed finish which ended amid turmoil over assistant coaches Sam Burgess and John Morris fuming about preferential treatment to the team’s star players, namely Walker and Mitchell. 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 31: Cody Walker of the Rabbitohs looks dejected during the round five NRL match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Melbourne Storm at Accor Stadium on March 31, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

It wasn’t a great look for the Bunnies on Monday with players joking that they have brought in a swear jar after Mitchell’s expletive-laden radio interview after Thursday’s loss in Brisbane.

The embarrassing and unprofessional display of petulance from Mitchell did nothing to discourage his critics from their view that he is too entitled.


Even though he escaped sanctions from the NRL over the bizarre interview, Mitchell should have been pulled into line by Souths but now the perception remains that there’s one rule for him and another for the average player.

If the Hawkins to halfback ploy doesn’t fly, the next option would have to be mixing and matching Walker and Wighton in the halves to see if that can get the red and green machine’s pistons pumping.

Walker has played exactly one match as the designated halfback in his 193-game career while Wighton filled every other position in the backline over his 242 matches with Canberra. 

Souths stood by Demetriou after they failed to make the finals last season by extending the offer of a contract extension until the end of 2026. 

For now, he has time on his side to morph this talented roster into title contenders.

But they have now won just four of their past 15 encounters – whether that’s the start of a terminal slide or an unhappy coincidence bridging the off-season remains to be seen but the early signs aren’t good for a team with a high ceiling but plenty of flaws.