In our third edition of ‘who can win the NRL premiership and why’ we pay homage to South Sydney.
The Rabbitohs hit the 2022 season with the pain of a grand-final loss spurring them on.
NRL Premiership Prediction
South Sydney almost gave Wayne Bennett a fairytale send off in last year’s grand final.
It was not be.
The Rabbitohs would fall agonisingly short of a 22nd NRL premiership after losing 14-12 against Penrith in an epic premiership battle.
South Sydney proved it could defeat Penrith having done the Panthers over in the qualifying final, but it was the Panthers who had the last laugh.
With Bennett now no longer at the helm, his trusty assistant Jason Demetriou has taken over the reins as head coach.
It is going to be hard for Demetriou to replicate what Bennett has done with this Rabbitohs team, but he has surely earned the trust and respect of his team having served as an apprentice to Bennett for three years.
The departure of captain and star halfback Adam Reynolds as well as the experience and try-scoring ability of Dane Gagai’s will mean Demetriou has an enormous task on his hands to find players who can fill those holes.
Blake Taaffe or Lachlan Ilias look the likely replacement for Reynolds.
Both players have been highly touted by recruits and, most importantly, Demetriou himself.
The retirement of Benji Marshall also means someone needs to step into a play-making role.
Names such as Isaiah Tass, Zane Bijorac and Taane Milne are going to put their hands up this year to fill the void.
South Sydney still has possession of its try-scoring weapon; Alex Johnston.
The winger crossed the line 30 times last season to lead the NRL competition and he also led the competition for linebreaks with 39 for the season.
Then there is the golden boy in Latrell Mitchell who can turn a game on its head.
Mitchell will miss the first two weeks due to suspension, but will be welcomed back in a hurry when he is available to be picked in round three.
His form is a barometer for the Rabbitohs.
The better he plays, the better the Rabbitohs play and there is no sign he will drop off in 2022.
Thomas Burgess will also be an important piece of the puzzle with his strength and hustle on the ball being a serious reason why South Sydney pushed so hard towards a premiership.
His ability to find gains while under pressure with ball-in-hand is almost unrivalled in the league.
He ranks fifth in the NRL for metres gained post contact and that trend needs to continue for the Souths to pose a premiership threat again.
The Rabbitohs just love trying to bustle their way through the defensive lines of opposition and it was a tactic that really stood out in 2022 as part of their competitive edge against the competition.
Souths line engaged a whopping 715 times, which was 154 more times than second placed Manly in that particular facet of the game.
Demetriou will be reinforcing the message of his predecessor, success in 2022 will come from getting down and dirty again.
It might need to be an even bigger focal point than it was in 2021, given the losses of the creative geniuses in Reynolds, Gagai and Marshall.
But with good structures around the offensive and defensive game plans likely to get kept intact, the losses of the big names should not impact the Souths’ premiership credentials.
They showed throughout all of 2021 they could deal with injuries and suspensions to key players.
Arnold Schwarzenegger once said ‘if it bleeds we can kill it.’
That is exactly the mantra the Souths will be channeling as they hunt down the Panthers in 2022.