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They may have collected their second consecutive wooden spoon, but 2004 could be the year that the red and green of South Sydney laid the foundations for a brighter future.
A club cannot expect on field success until it gets itself in good shape off the field. Successful clubs need strong management, a settled board and a professional coaching staff. In former Cronulla & Penrith CEO Shane Richardson, Souths have an administrator with a proven track record of turning struggling clubs around and a habit of getting what he wants. The arrival of Shaun McRae from English club Hull is expected to bring greater professionalism to the coaching staff, with Arthur Kitinas his assistant.
South Sydney fans will have mixed feelings about their team?s on field performances in 2004. Two early wins including a controversial golden point victory over the Wests Tigers and a crushing 36-12 win over Cronulla at Aussie Stadium, raised hopes of an improved season. But the good vibes quickly disappeared as a season ending injury to in form off season purchase Adam MacDougall (achilles tendon) coincided with an eight match streak without a win.
Paul Langmack was promptly sacked by the board in June after a paltry return of just 5 wins and 1 draw during his 1? years with the club. As soon as Premier League coach Arthur Kitinas stepped in as caretaker coach, Souths produced a brief, but dramatic form reversal.
In one of the comebacks of the season, the Rabbitohs fought back from 16-0 down at home to Melbourne to triumph 28-26, in a display of great character. They produced back to back wins the next week, accounting for Manly at Brookvale 34-30. They went even better three rounds later, thrashing an understrength Penrith by 30-6, with young halfback Joe Williams playing a starring role.
Despite some bright performances, such as a 34 all draw with the Broncos, a sizeable injury toll exposed the club?s lack of depth and experience and Souths failed to win another game all season. Humiliating defeats at the hands of the Wests Tigers (6-56) and Canberra (22-62) were reminders that the club has a lot of work to do, but at least they are starting to head in the right direction.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ashley Harrison: Former Bronco had an excellent year at lock in a struggling team. Gets through plenty of defensive work and has a good one handed off load. He deserves a Queensland jersey if he maintains his 2004 form.
DISCOVERY OF THE YEAR: Joe Williams: Souths may have finally found the genuine Number 7 they were looking for. Williams looks capable of steering a first grade team around the park with his kicking game and willingness to take on the defensive line.
PREDICTION FOR 2005: It is hard to see Souths improving drastically. It will be a matter of how quickly Shaun McRae adapts to coaching in the NRL. If the likes of Bryan Fletcher, Adam MacDougall and newcomer Shannon Hegarty can stay injury free, that will help the younger talent mature faster. With any luck, they might finally shake off the wooden spoon in 2005.
2004 Match Record ROUND OPPONENT VENUE RESULT SCORE
1 Sydney Roosters Aussie Stadium LOSS 16-26
2 Wests Tigers Aussie Stadium WIN 17-16
4 Cronulla Sharks Aussie Stadium WIN 36-12
5 Parramatta Eels Parramatta Stadium LOSS 20-41
6 Melbourne Storm Olympic Park LOSS 4-50
7 Bulldogs Aussie Stadium LOSS 8-34
8 Newcastle Knights Energy Australia Stadium LOSS 8-24
9 Penrith Panthers Penrith Stadium LOSS 4-38
10 North Queensland Cowboys Express Advocate Stadium DRAW 20-20
11 New Zealand Warriors Aussie Stadium LOSS 12-26
12 Cronulla Sharks Toyota Park LOSS 18-38
14 Melbourne Storm Aussie Stadium WIN 28-26
15 Manly Sea Eagles Brookvale Oval WIN 34-30
16 St.George-Illawarra Dragons The S.C.G. LOSS 12-52
17 Brisbane Broncos Suncorp Stadium LOSS 28-48
18 Penrith Panthers Aussie Stadium WIN 30-6
19 New Zealand Warriors Ericsson Stadium LOSS 20-34
20 Sydney Roosters Aussie Stadium LOSS 12-22
21 Newcastle Knights Aussie Stadium LOSS 22-30
22 Wests Tigers Leichhardt Oval LOSS 6-56
23 North Queensland Cowboys Dairy Farmers Stadium LOSS 22-36
24 Manly Sea Eagles North Sydney Oval LOSS 22-50
25 Brisbane Broncos Aussie Stadium DRAW 34-34
26 Canberra Raiders Canberra Stadium LOSS 22-62
5 WINS, 2 DRAWS, 17 LOSSES. FOR: 455 AGAINST 812 POSITION: 15TH
South Sydney - 2005 Player Movement Gains: Shaun McRae-Coach (Hull FC) ,Taylor Pelenise (Canterbury Bulls mid season), Trent Young (Easts Tigers), Scott Logan (Hull, mid season), Shannon Hegarty (Roosters) for 3yrs, Peter Cusack (Roosters) 2yrs, Peter Taylor (Roosters), Stan Tuitavake (Bulldogs), Germaine Paulson (Broncos\\Clydesdales, 2yrs), Michael Greenfield (Souths)
Losses: Paul Langmack - Coach (Released- mid season), Willie Peters (Widnes mid season), Terry Hill (retired- beginning of 2004 season), Jamie Russo (Canberra mid season), Jason Death (Retirement), Scott Pethybridge (Retired beginning of 2004 season), Damon Alley-Tovio (Canberra), Brett O?Farell (Sharks mid season), Mark Meredith (Tigers for 2yrs), Paul Stringer (Eels for 2yrs), Justin Smith (Cowboys for 3yrs), Jake Spoon (Wakefield, UK), Ahmad Bajouri (Retirement), Owen Craigie (Released).
From Michael Allen ? Freelance Journalist.