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Opinion

Wayne’s Redfern rebuild won’t be easy: Long laundry list awaits Bennett to clean up Rabbitohs’ mess

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Expert
20th May, 2024
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It’s Wayne’s world and the Rabbitohs are living in it. Again. 

The sequel is rarely as good as the original and that was definitely the case with Wayne’s World. WayneStock. Really? Mike Myers, what were you thinking?

Wayne Bennett is on his way back to South Sydney for the second coming of the closest thing the NRL coaching ranks has to a messiah. 

Since he left after the agony of a 2021 Grand Final defeat by a measly sideline conversion attempt, the Bunnies have been on a steady, then very steep, decline. 

They rallied to make the Preliminary Final in Jason Demetriou’s first season trying to overcome the hoodoo that has led to the premature sacking of all Bennett’s previous successors. 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 09: Rabbitohs head coach Wayne Bennett looks on during a South Sydney Rabbitohs NRL training session at Redfern Oval on March 09, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
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Wayne Bennett. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)[/caption]

1. The roster

Tough calls need to be made. Bennett has proved in the past that he has never been afraid to move an ageing star out of a club a year too early than a year too late. 

Damien Cook and Alex Johnston fall into the category of well-paid veterans who are not producing at the level which earned them their lucrative contracts. 

Peter Mamouzelos is rated highly at the club as Cook’s long-term successor and he’s served his apprenticeship. If he is forced to wait until 2026 for a crack at the No.9 jersey, the Bunnies could lose him to another club this year and then need to find another hooker 12 months later. 

Johnston is now one try behind second-placed Billy Slater on the all-time list but his chances of overhauling Ken Irvine’s all-time record could hinge on whether he can secure another contract at another NRL club. 

While he is still a very fine finisher, his questionable defensive skills have deteriorated and he now has the unenviable record of nine try causes in just five appearances this season either side of a hamstring injury. 

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At 1.4 per game, he’s is easily the worst among all wingers who have played this season. 

Of course they haven’t all been entirely his fault and the teammates inside of him have been consistently poor when it comes to the tackling caper but being the worst winger at defence is like being the most terrible actor in Full House, the original or the reboot.

2. The Latrell situation. 

Bennett has a long history of getting the best out of troubled souls and Mitchell appears to be lacking motivation. 

His involvement levels for a fullback are consistently along the worst in the NRL and while he can still have impact in attack, questions linger over whether he would be better value as a centre. 

With rookie Jye Gray breaking into the NRL ranks this season and Jack Wighton wasted at left centre, Bennett has options if he thinks the time has come for Mitchell to switch spots. 

Wherever he ends up, Bennett needs him fit, focused and firing otherwise he will continue to be a lightning rod for criticism and the club will keep getting diminishing returns on his enormous talent. 

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3. Walker worth keeping?

He has stated that he wants to play on beyond his contract when it expires at the end of next year but while that may be his desire, it’s not necessarily the best thing for Souths. 

Like he can with Mitchell, the old coach can help Walker rediscover his love for league but at 34, how much life is left in his old legs at this level?

He started his NRL career late at 26 which theoretically means he could be fresher than most players in their mid 30s but that still doesn’t mean the reflexes and speed won’t fade away and when that happens to a playmaker known for his ability to accelerate into a half chance, it can end careers swiftly. 

4. Where to play Jack Wighton

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Souths are not getting bang for the many bucks they shelled out to prise Wighton from the Raiders. 

By the way his decision to leave Canberra for a premiership contender isn’t looking great after 11 rounds with the Green Machine running sixth and the Rabbitohs propping up the bottom of the ladder. 

Wighton has three more years on his deal and the Rabbitohs are not getting a return on their investment while he lingers at left centre. 

Whether he replaces Walker at five-eighth, Mitchell at fullback or Bennett tries him at lock and switches Cameron Murray to an edge, Souths need to get more from the only Dally M Medal winner on their roster.

5. The leaky defence. 

League lingo dictates that defence is an attitude. If that is the case, South Sydney’s attitude stinks and needs dramatic attention. 

Defending is also an under-rated technical aspect of the sport and the Rabbitohs rarely seem to be on the same page when opponents shift the ball wide of the middle. 

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Bennett teams rarely focus on attack until they get their defence right so that will be a top priority when he lobs for pre-season training in November. 

They are currently haemorrhaging 34.8 points per game and are starting to enter into historically bad territory.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25: Cody Walker of the Rabbitohs reacts after losing the round eight NRL match between Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs at AAMI Park on April 25, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

6. Uniting a fractured club. 

The leaks, claims and counter-claims that came spewing forth during Demetriou’s demise are symptoms of a club that lacks direction. 

Russell Crowe has taken a step back, the other co-owners are having more of a say, the board was split over whether Demetriou should be dumped. It’s been a mess. 

Bennett is not afraid to “manage up” when he thinks a front office could benefit from a few home truths. 

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It’s a potentially combustible situation as he is not going to Souths for a haircut, clearly not. This may be his final ride as an NRL coach and Bennett can’t afford to waste a season or two if the rest of the Rabbitohs club is fighting itself from within. 

Bennett can be the right coach for any situation but this is up there with his Newcastle rebuild and the Dolphins’ entry into the big league as the toughest tasks of his coaching career. 

Party on. Excellent.  

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