This could be a rebuilding year for the South Sydney Rabbitohs as they welcome Anthony Seibold as coach and a new playing system which promises more attacking nous.
With the return of Greg Inglis set to boost the Rabbitohs, they will have to rely on a host of fresh faces to fill the gaps in their side as they look to combine youth and experience.
Although their team form was rather poor last year, the performances of several individuals were impressive.
Fans will be hoping Alex Johnston and Cody Walker in particular, can replicate their eye-catching individual form.
Souths could be somewhat of an anomaly in 2018; they will either surprise everyone and push for a top eight NRL berth, or they will be down in the dumps as they rebuild their roster essentially from scratch and languish near the bottom.
Could this be the year the Bunnies bounce back? With plenty of new faces at the club, it could no doubt be on the cards.
The Rabbitohs have called upon a familiar face in Seibold, a Souths assistant coach last year and former Queensland Origin assistant coach, to lead the squad.
Captain Greg Inglis made his highly anticipated comeback in the Charity Shield after a long recovery from an ACL injury he suffered in the opening round last season but there will still be question marks surrounding his form heading into round one.
The arrival of Queensland Origin star Dane Gagai has also added excitement to the rebuilding club. Coming off the back of a successful 2017 in which he earned State of Origin Player of the Series honours, Gagai will definitely offer a positive contribution to the Bunnies’ backline.
Rookies on the rise. There are plenty of young guns looking for their NRL debut this year in the likes of Adam Doueihi, Jesse Arthars, Mawene Hiroti and Sam Johnstone.
South Sydney will be one of the first NRL teams to battle it out at Perth Stadium. They face the always dangerous New Zealand Warriors to kick off their 2018 campaign.
With the expected return of key player Inglis, the arrival of Origin weapon Gagai and a fit and fresh looking squad, they definitely have the potential to start the season on a high.
Seibold told NRL.com one of the squads main goals this season is straight out of rugby league’s oldest playbook – to take it one game at a time.
“I haven’t really paid too much attention to the draw to be honest,” Seibold said.
“All I know is that at the moment we are worried about round one against the Warriors over in Perth so a lot of our planning has been in and around that.”
The great news for Bunnies fans is that 12 of this season’s 24 games will be held on home turf at ANZ Stadium. Following the bye in round 17, the Rabbitohs have five successive games at Homebush, giving them a home-ground advantage at a crucial stage of the season.
The stats that give you hope
The Rabbitohs will be sure to look to Alex Johnston again this season as the fullback/winger finished second overall in the competition for tries scored (22).
He also led the team in line breaks (18) and his 2721 running metres ranked second among the players.
Part-time five-eighth, part-time fullback Cody Walker is a big part of Souths’ plans for a return to the finals after he led the competition with line break involvement last year, averaging 1.79 per game.
The impact of the bench was also a solid and a positive one, averaging 69 metres per interchange player per game, as well as providing 50 offloads and five line breaks off the bench across the season.
The positives for the Bunnies as a whole in the 2017 season was having the competition’s fastest play-the-ball in the game, averaging 3.38 seconds and also ranking fourth in the competition for tackling efficiency (88%), most line breaks (115) and shutting down the offload (233).
Although there were cracks in the Rabbitohs attacking game, they finished the season with the second lowest possession rate in the competition, averaging 48.7 percent across the year.
Tackle-busting back-rowers Angus Crichton ($880,000) and Sam Burgess ($750,000) are likely to top South Sydney’s NRL Fantasy scorers again in 2018, while Cameron Murray ($533,000) looms as a cut-price gun if he can grab and keep the No.13 jersey all season.
Inglis ($503,000) generally scores well when fit and firing at fullback. George Burgess ($387,000) is another former Fantasy star who looms as great value if he regains his form from a few years ago.
Seibold offers a much-needed fresh start to Souths this year. His transition has been a smooth one from assistant coach to head coach for the next two seasons. Not only has he brought a new coaching style but a new game plan based around pressure and efforts.
Halfback Adam Reynolds revealed a number of Seibold’s methods have been a hit throughout pre-season.
“He is very structured and very thorough about his process. We are focusing on pressure and efforts this year,” Reynolds said.
“He has already been holding everyone accountable every day at training for that.”
Seibold has also given up representative coaching to focus on excelling in the NRL.
“I’ve stepped down from the Queensland State of Origin team,” he said.
“Although I love the role, it would have been selfish of me to continue. I want to be fair to the club here and this is my priority now.”
Crichton is moving on from the Rabbitohs after the 2018 season with fierce rivals Sydney Roosters reportedly snaring him on a three-year deal. Crichton is primarily focused on his role at the Bunnies and if he has a season like last year, he is sure to go out with a bang.
“This will be my last year at Souths so I hope it will be my biggest,” he said.
“I’m putting a lot of work in now to make this season my best for the club and the boys.”
On a positive note, go-to-man Walker has signed a two-year contract extension which will secure him at the club until the end of the 2020 season.
The burning question
The whole of the NRL is hoping Greg Inglis will get back to his best. The Rabbitohs captain, Origin phenomenon and Australian representative says he is on the right track but only time will tell if he can regain his top form in the early rounds.
Crichton and Johnston may feature in representative football this year off the back of individually strong 2017 campaigns.
Walker has also been touted as a player deserving of representative honours. Veteran John Sutton spoke highly of the pivot, saying his performances over the last couple of seasons should be rewarded.
“I reckon Cody Walker, he’s had two really good seasons here and I’m really looking forward to see what he can do this year,” Sutton said.
“I think representative footy is just around the corner for him.”
The players you should follow on social media
Reynolds and Crichton have been crowned the social media kings at the Rabbitohs.
Check it out for yourself on their social media platforms.
Seibold says he is eager for the season to get underway to showcase the hard work the Bunnies have put in over the pre-season.
”We’ve invested a lot of time in changing the way we train, building relationships within the group and also manipulating our game model. We just want to see a positive transfer to the field and that is probably one of the things I’m most looking forward to – giving the players the best opportunity to play their best footy. It will be challenging at times there’s no doubt about that but I’m quite excited about seeing us go out and play.”
NRL.com expert Jamie Soward says: “Cody Walker had some glimpses at fullback last year and played five-eighth. Greg Inglis comes back. Souths need Cody Walker to have a big year.
“Souths finish 14th.”
Adam Doueihi, Adam Reynolds, Alex Johnston, Angus Crichton, Braidon Burns, Cameron Murray, Campbell Graham, Cody Walker, Connor Tracey, Damien Cook, Dane Gagai, Dean Britt, George Burgess, Greg Inglis, Hymel Hunt, Jacob Gagan, Jason Clark, Jesse Arthars, John Sutton, Joshua Cook, Kyle Turner, Mark Nicholls, Mawene Hiroti, Richard Kennar, Robbie Farah, Robert Jennings, Sam Burgess, Sam Johnstone, Siosifa Talakai, Thomas Burgess, Tyrell Fuimaono, Tyrone Taukamo, Vincent Leuluai, Zane Musgrove
Note: These club squads are subject to change. Each club is required to submit 29 of their official 30-man playing squad to the NRL by March 1. The final spot in these rosters can remain free up until June 30.