Will 2014 finally be the year of the Rabbitoh?
They've entered the penultimate game of the NRL season as favourites each of the past two years, only to fail to advance to the 'big dance' on both occasions. While that could leave some Souths fans feeling a little nervous about their team's chance in 2014 – what's that saying about things happening in threes? – here are five compelling reasons those nerves will prove unfounded for the cardinal and myrtle next season.
1. Hurts so good
Victory in their Round 26 clash with the Roosters last September would have seen the JJ Giltinan Shield for the Minor Premiership heading back to Redfern for the first time since 1989. Alas, the Bunnies were beaten 24-12. Still, fans' spirits soared when they smashed the Storm in Week 1 of the Finals to set up a grand final qualifier match-up with Manly. But just like in 2012, when they were bumped out of the competition by the Bulldogs 32-8, Souths found a better opponent in the Sea Eagles who prevailed 30-20 to tear apart their dreams of appearing in a grand final for the first time since 1971. While 2012 was seen as a learning curve there's no question last season's preliminary finals exit was deemed premature given the strength and form of the Rabbitohs squad. Both the players and coaching staff will be hurting. And they'll be hurting that they've been hurting for so long. There's only one thing that will make them feel better.
2. Greg Inglis
It's hard to believe this will be Inglis's 10th season in the top grade. With two incredibly successful years now banked in the No.1 jersey, and having just turned 27, 2014 could be his banner season. He's had such an impact from fullback that debate thrives about whether he's a better custodian than Kangaroos incumbent Billy Slater. Certainly his lethal bursts down the left edge of fields, his telescopic-like fend and also his sharp left-foot sidestep are without peer. Last year he compiled a stunning resume that included 14 tries from 20 matches, with 121 tackle busts and almost a line break per game – and that despite being hampered by a troublesome knee injury throughout the back end of the year. If he stays on the park Souths can expect to rack up the points again.
3. Those fabulous Burgess boys
What's left to say? Sam, on a par with Sonny Bill Williams as the most destructive forward in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, has delivered exactly that sort of impact for the Rabbitohs for the past four years. Indeed his 16 line busts from 22 games last season were the most by a prop. Younger brother George came of age in his first full NRL season in 2013, storming to the Dally M Rookie of the Year award and leaving a trail of opponents in his wake via a tally of 97 tackle busts. And at the back end of 2013 the pair was joined by twin Thomas, who bagged nine NRL games and looks set to build on that total considerably in 2014. Throw in oldest brother Luke and they are a quartet not to be messed with.
4. Better for the experience
Plenty were expecting halfback Adam Reynolds to falter in his second full year in the NRL in 2013 but it didn't happen. After a season that saw him finish third-highest point-scorer, with the second-best goal-kicking accuracy (100 goals booted at 90%), and fourth for line-break assists, the No.7 heads into 2014 firmly in the mix for the New South Wales halfback jersey, despite incumbent Mitchell Pearce helping to guide the Roosters to the title. George Burgess could improve on his debut year and will take a solid World Cup campaign into the New Year, while twin brother Thomas could arguably replicate – if not better – George's rookie year. You could even throw in coach Michael Maguire. Just two seasons into his NRL career he ranks second behind Trent Robinson for percentage of wins (68% from 53 games to 78% from 27 games).
5. Pack of trouble
They may have said farewell to hard-edged Roy Asotasi, Jeff Lima and Michael Crocker but there's still plenty of menace in the Rabbitohs' forwards. Everywhere you look there's a Burgess lurking, and Issac Luke plays with all the intensity of his haka deliveries for New Zealand, with his darts from dummy-half among the most destructive moves in the game. His impact is further emphasised by his ranking as leading forward for line-break assists in 2013 (when he was fifth overall). Ben Te'o and Chris McQueen are Origin players while Dave Tyrrell, the man with the Superman symbol tattoo, is an impressive work in progress. Also, recruits including 20-year-old Chris Grevsmuhl (Cowboys) and commercially sound Joe Picker (Raiders) will ensure good depth. Wabbit season? It just may be.