South Sydney Rabbitohs
2012 position: 3rd
2013 prediction: 4th
When a new coach comes to a club, players usually react with gusto in their performances on the field and at training, and South Sydney certainly stepped it up a notch when their new coach turned up to Redfern Oval. Coach Michael Maguire was highly sought after by Souths’ after their 10th place finish to the 2011 season. John Lang done a reasonable job at carrying the team along for 2 years, but to go to the next level as a team, they needed a gun. Much speculation was made about whether Wayne Bennet would join the club, but Souths went for the Super League winning coach Maguire from Wigan. One has to wonder how Souths would have gone if Bennet had of been at the helm last year? Not as good as they did under Maguire. Maguire is fresh, hungry, disciplined, fair, hard and quietly confident for a 1st time NRL coach. It’s obvious that Maguire has learnt his stripes under Bellamy, not only in his demeanour, actions and coaching style, but his willingness to continually learn from others. Take for example, conversations with Queensland Red’s coach Ewan McKenzie, talks about how he frequently visited EPL clubs whilst in England, and even the story that surfaced about him sleeping on ex-Aussie’s couches in America visiting NFL clubs. The sign that he truly has what it takes for me comes in the way he never lets players, the media, the fans or anyone know that ‘the bar has been reached’. Even when Souths were tearing teams apart in 2012, each press conference he would continually re-iterate the need to perform better in certain areas or how there was a long way to go. Even when they led the comp, he still wanted more from his men.
Their performance last season seen them finish 3rd, just missing a grand final birth after going down to the Bulldogs. Many people commented on how they ‘just missed out’ after halfback Adam Reynolds left the field with a painful hamstring tear. But you get the feeling that it was just all a bit too premature for Souths to win the comp in their first year under Maguire. A nice thought to having them singing ‘Glory Glory’ on Grand final day, but realistically, out of reach. His structures, set-ups & systems, whatever you want to call them, have all been learnt now and can continue to be built on. He has let a couple of players go and signed a few giving him much more control of their destiny in 2013. One major player to leave the bunnies was Dave Taylor. The “Coal-train” decided to return to his home state of Queensland even though Maguire publicly stated he wanted him. Taylor is no doubt a force to be reckoned with having played at state and international level, but he is often a random, enigmatic and inconsistent player. He looked better last year on-board Maguire’s tight-ship, but his risk vs. reward plays sometimes hurt the team. They look good, dazzle crowds and baffle commentators, but the right play for the Maguire run Souths? Maybe not. Maguire has chosen to replace him with the mid-career Ben Te’o from the Brisbane Broncos. Of all the back rowers in the game, Maguire chose Te’o. Why? He’s a versatile pack player who has spent time in the maroon’s squad. Whether Te’o can offer the same impact as Taylor remains to be seen, but the ‘solidness’ of his overall performances seem safer and better suited for the now strong Souths.
The rest of South’s losses seem to counter act each other in terms of playing ability. It appears as though Jeff Lima comes in to replace Eddy Pettybourne, Beau Champion returns to replace James Roberts, Thomas burgess joins up as Scott Geddes says goodbye. Souths also have Bryson Goodwin on board for back-up along with Mitchell Bucket from the Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles. The unknown (to me) Burgess and Bucket seem like the most exciting prospects of the sign-on’s. The return of Champion is also an intriguing move. Before leaving to Melbourne and later the Titans to accommodate Inglis at Souths, Champion was a constant try-scorer for the bunnies, a super coach specialist. Although he isn’t one of the most exciting or dangerous players, he seems like a key ‘Moneyball-like’ signing by Coach Madge. Not the X-factor of Jarryd Hayne, but always ‘getting over the line’. From a try scoring statiscal point of view, he is good. He and Goodwin will both come in handy considering the injury run Matt King as had.
Will Souths win the comp in 2013? I think they can. I believe the way Maguire has the place running has them set-up to be a powerhouse at the top of the league. His 6 captains in 2012 turned out to be a masterstroke with many of the elder players stepping up in their professionalism and leadership. Greg Inglis appears to have matured out of sight and seems so much more confident in the Sydney fishbowl then he was in his first year. They also don’t have many origin players which should see them get through the rep season well. Aside from injuries, the other worrying concern is the history of well performing teams to ‘back-it-up’ a season after. Take the 2009 Parramatta Eels, any man and his dog would have thought they’d win the 2010 season. But they were rolled. In 2010 the Sydney Roosters got to the final game but then went off the rails the year after. In 2011 the Warriors made the grand final and then lumped to 14th last year. The teams listed did in fact lose the grand final un-like Souths, which would suggest Canterbury-Bankstown are due to suffer this curse but it’s worth a thought.
I hope Souths do in-deed prosper this season, in what would be a tremendous year for the NRL if they did after all the commission, TV rights, new CEO who ha.. The game is at a stage where it is ready to grow and having Souths hold the trophy in October would certainly do wonders.