The Michael Maguire era is officially over at Redfern and a renewed sense of optimism has Rabbitohs fans bullish ahead of Season 2018. Despite Maguire's previous success at the storied club, the Rabbitohs desperately required an overhaul, and that has come in the form of rookie coach Anthony Seibold. Souths are taking a huge punt by thrusting Seibold into the hot seat but his pedigree working under Craig Bellamy at Melbourne and Kevin Walters in the Queensland Origin camp suggests he is more than capable.
Seibold will hope Angus Crichton's impending defection to arch rivals the Roosters won't prove a distraction as the season progresses and perhaps he needn't worry. When the Rabbitohs last won the competition, their premiership push was kick-started by the announcement that gun forwards Ben Te'o and Sam Burgess would both be leaving the club...
That may be wishful thinking for Bunnies fans, but they surely must improve on a disappointing 12th placed finish in Season 2017.
The new faces
For a side that finished in the bottom half of the competition, the Rabbitohs have been remarkably quiet in the transfer market. Contract extensions for the Burgess brothers and five-eighth Cody Walker have left Souths with limited cash and they've spent most of that on former Newcastle flyer Dane Gagai. On a deal close to $750,000 a season, Gagai hasn't come cheap, so Souths will expect a significant return on investment. Coming off a career-best 2017 where he was named Origin player of the series, Gagai is a quality pick up for the Bunnies and his inclusion will provide the necessary spark to a backline that has more recently been defined by its inexperience, than try-scoring ability.
The big spend on Gagai has meant Souths have had to be clever with the rest of their signings and it appears they've been more than savvy in securing the services of Richie Kennar. The former Melbourne and Bulldogs winger has struggled to lock down a backline position at his past two clubs but early season form suggests he is in line for a Round 1 debut with the Bunnies.
Signings: Dane Gagai (Newcastle Knights, 2021), Richard Kennar (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2019), Mark Nicholls (Melbourne Storm, 2018), Jesse Arthars (Melbourne Storm, 2019), Dean Britt (Melbourne Storm, 2019), Billy Brittain (2018), Jacob Gagan (Newcastle Knights, 2018), Vincent Leuluai (Melbourne Storm, 2018), Jesse Martin (Manly Sea Eagles, 2018), Junior Tatola (Wests Tigers, 2018)
If there has been one upside to South's relatively quiet recruitment drive, it's that they've kept their 2017 lineup largely intact. Aaron Gray moves on to the Sharks after an injury-interrupted 2017 while Bryson Goodwin takes up a Super League opportunity with Warrington. Goodwin's loss is the one which will be felt most keenly by the club. As one of the most consistent performers in a disappointing Rabbitohs side last season, Goodwin's goalkicking ability proved more than handy given Adam Reynolds' constant injury layoffs.
Losses: Aaron Gray (Cronulla Sharks), Bryson Goodwin (Warrington Wolves), Anthony Cherrington (retired), Jack Gosiewski (Manly Sea Eagles), Brett Greinke (released), Gabriel Hamlin (Wigan Warriors), Luke Kelly (released), Dane Nielsen (released), Robbie Rochow (Wests Tigers), Toby Rudolf (released), David Tyrrell (released)
|1||Greg Inglis||10||Zane Musgrove|
|2||Alex Johnston||11||Sam Burgess|
|3||Hymel Hunt||12||Angus Crichton|
|4||Dane Gagai||13||Cameron Murray|
|6||Cody Walker||14||John Sutton|
|7||Adam Reynolds||15||George Burgess|
|8||Tom Burgess||16||Jason Clark|
|9||Damien Cook||17||Kyle Turner|
With a certain S.Burgess as your second-row partner, you could forgive Crichton for thinking he may avoid the spotlight in Season 2018. Not this season though. In light of his defection to Souths' despised rivals, Crichton has invariably placed a target firmly on his back. Having amputated part of his finger to ensure more time on the park in 2018, Crichton will want to produce a strong start to the season to avoid the ire of the disgruntled Rabbitohs faithful. A few poor performances and it won't be long before questions are floated on his commitment to the club.
What a difference a few months make. On a measly $300,000 contract and wanting a release midway through last season, it looked as though 2017 would be Cody Walker's last in the Cardinal and Myrtle. A new coach and a new attacking philosophy have seen Walker perform a complete about-face and recommit to the Redfern club until the end of 2020.
Last season was a write-off for the Bunnies five-eighth. In the absence of Greg Inglis, the move to fullback didn't suit Walker's style. For such an elusive runner of the ball, he didn't get his hands on the Steeden nearly enough. A permanent shift back to five-eighth should see him replicate the glimpses of talent he showed last season where he finished in the top 10 players for try assists (20) and line break assists (18). A more focused running game from Walker should also free Adam Reynolds to focus on his precision kicking game, providing more balance to what was, a disjointed Rabbitohs attack in 2017.
When Greg Inglis is firing, the bunnies are firing. Simple as that. Souths suffered from Inglis' absence last year and having their captain back should not only straighten their attack but lift the outputs of those around him. There are whispers Inglis may be pushed to the centres in a bid to prolong his playing career, but if Souths are any chance in 2018, he must start at fullback. As one of the Rabbitohs most damaging ball runners, having Inglis in the custodian role provides the go-forward necessary when playing out from the back.
2018 is the year of the road trip for Souths and a gruelling travel schedule kicks off with a Round 1 clash against the Warriors in Perth. The Rabbitohs travel outside of Sydney a whopping nine times this year. The most of any Sydney club. That means that when they're back at home, they'll want to perform in front of their home fans and there are two key clashes that will set the tone for the rest of their season.
Round 4 vs Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium
The Rabbitohs resume hostilities against the Bulldogs in Round 4 for their traditional Good Friday clash. With Dogs coach Dean Pay giving his players licence to attack this year, Souths will hope the offseason has provided them with enough time to fix what was their biggest weakness last year - DEFENCE. With 564 points scored against them in 2017, the Bunnies produced the fifth-worst defence in the competition. It's said defence wins premierships and if Souths hope to be in the hunt come finals time, they will need to improve markedly in this area.
Round 6 vs Roosters at Allianz Stadium
Against the side most are tipping to claim the 2018 premiership, Souths won't get a better yardstick than this Round 6 clash against their crosstown rivals. Beyond bragging rights, if Souths are able to measure up against a side that boasts James Tedesco, Cooper Cronk and Latrell Mitchell, it should give their young players confidence they're not just there to make up the numbers in Season 2018.
2018 promises to be a make or break season for the Bunnies. While a quiet recruitment drive has afforded the Rabbitohs a relatively stable roster, it begs the question of how they improve off the back of a 12th placed finish in 2017. The inclusion of Gagai and Inglis will add more points to their backline and allow Walker and Reynolds some stability in the halves, however, the key looks to be avoiding distraction. Crichton's defection will be a hot topic if results don't improve as will the fate of Robbie Farah. Souths can't afford a 'Jason Taylor-esque' saga playing out should coach Seibold opt to play the former Tigers hooker in reserve grade.
The Rabbitohs have no shortage of star power on their roster, but consistency is key for their young pack. A slight improvement on last year should be expected, but it's probably one more season before we see the Bunnies pushing for a top-eight finish. A 9th or 10th placed finish looks most likely for Season 2018.
Are Souths destined for anything better than 9th position in 2018? Let us know in the comments and poll below.