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The South Sydney Rabbitohs have started the 2006 NRL Season with 11 straight losses and the club with the most Premierships in the history of the game looks odds on to collect their third Wooden Spoon (could be a 4th had it not been for the Bulldogs) since returning to the competition in 2002.
Coach Shaun McRae and CEO Shane Richardson are under increasing pressure to deliver on field results from the media and the patience of many South Sydney fans is being tested yet again.
But honestly what did the media and the fans expect from the ?new? Rabbitohs when they re-joined the competition for the 2002 NRL Premiership?
Surely it could not have been a premiership within 5 seasons and if you take the ?emotion? factor out of the equation, you must realise that rebuilding a club with no genuinely stocked junior base (when your club loses its NRL squad you can kiss your talented juniors goodbye ? as was the case post 1999) is extremely difficult.
What makes that rebuilding process even harder is having less than a year to form a team for the start of the 2002 season. When South Sydney won their court case in early July 2001, they had already missed the vital week following the June 30 deadline when NRL players became free agents for the 2002 season. The rush to return to the NRL was the key mistake South Sydney made when they demanded re-admittance for 2002. Had they had the foresight to see that a 2003 beginning for the ?new? Souths would be beneficial both on and off the field ? one has to wonder if South Sydney would be in the position they are in today.
Compare the way the new Gold Coast Titans have gone about their business of setting up a club and the way the Bunnies went about it in late 2001 ? when you do, all you can see is a really embarrassing indictment on the rushed nature of the South Sydney readmission. I firmly believe that had the Bunnies had 18 months to prepare for NRL action they would not be stuck in the rut they are currently in and have been in since 2002.
That is essentially the biggest mistake that was made in the first five years of the ?new? Souths (and there have been plenty of other ones? Langmack, Coleman, Tapp, Muir etc) ? but what are the problems now?
Well truth be told apart from their current on field performance, off the field club is looking better than they have for a long time. The members made a huge (and I believe correct) call voting in Peter Holmes a court and Russell Crowe as the club?s new owners and the team of McRae and Richardson have extensive experience running rugby league teams. Both duos bring a lot to the table and in the coming seasons you can bet your bottom dollar that South Sydney?s off field setup will rival most in the league.
But the playing roster still lacks genuine talent and NRL quality depth.
So how can the ?new? South Sydney rectify this disheartening cycle that seems to have set in since 2002?
The answer (one of many suggested over the years I?m sure) lies in basically three key areas.
1. They must reinvest considerable money in adding quality non-local juniors to their system ? something the Sydney Roosters have excelled in over the past half dozen seasons ? and in turn keep the club?s junior base strong and with the new blood (most importantly) competitive. In the past two seasons the Bunnies have added youngsters such as Ray Moujalli (Roosters), Jack Rampling (Roosters), Ben Rogers (Panthers) and Michael Greenfield (Sharks) to their ranks. While for the most part the Rabbitohs are yet to see genuine results from any of the players the effort has begun to add quality to their young player base ? combining that with their current junior base. 2. In addition to the young talent (getting players before they are ready for the NRL so they are not rushed into first grade) the club must keep doing their best during May, June, July to recruit good established first graders. Adding Joe Galuvao, Peter Cusack, Ben Walker and Shannon Hegarty over the past 18 months is at the very least going to improve the team?s chances of winning games ? even if they can?t alone take the Rabbits to the Finals. If you cast your mind back to the Tigers during 2003 when they went out and signed Brett Hodgson, Pat Richards, Scott Sattler, Todd Payten and Scott Prince for 2004 ? they hit home runs with Hodgson and Prince ? and while they did pay overs for those two players in order to lure them west, they made a serious effort to secure (at the time) mid level talent. 3. Build up a deep staff and high quality facility infrastructure that is on par with the rest of the NRL. Holmes a Court has been frank on this issue numerous times ? the Bunnies don?t have the setup that other teams have and until that changes the team is behind the eight ball from the start of each season. This criteria will be met in the coming months as the new ownership injects much needed funds and leadership into the club.
Where the club most certainly won?t find a solution is going down the route of trying to sign 3 or 4 star players every time June 30 comes around ? because that is the kind of strategy that will leave you with next to nothing 9 times out of 10. This happened to the Bunnies last year when they missed out on Matt Orford, Steven Bell, Braith Anasta and Ben Ross and in turn saw their best player Ashley Harrison defect to the Roosters because he could not see the Rabbitohs being competitive in 2006.
And that leads into another sad story for the ?new? Bunnies. Since their re-admittance they have seen the likes of Harrison, Chris Walker, Justin Smith, Paul Stringer, Wade McKinnon, Fuifui Moimoi and a few other solid players leave their club before their NRL careers were finished. While not every player to have left the club was going to reach their potential at Souths the loss of Harrison in particular was shattering to the foundations of the club, despite his drop in form since joining the Roosters.
But the clearest example of where South Sydney struggle at present is to compare their 2006 (fully fit) team to their 2002 (fully fit) side.
2002: Wade McKINNON, Brad WATTS, Russell RICHARDSON, Andrew KING, Brent GROSE, Owen CRAIGIE, Blaine STANLEY, Paul STRINGER, Jason DEATH, Glenn GRIEF, Adam MUIR ?, Luke STUART, Shane RIGON. Bench: Anthony COLELLA, Andrew HART, Frank PULETUA, Paul MacNICHOLAS.
2006 (without David Peachey): Todd POLGLASE, Luke MacDOUGALL, Shannon HEGARTY, Adam MacDOUGALL, Nathan MERRITT, John SUTTON, Ben WALKER, Peter CUSACK ?, Shane WALKER, Scott GEDDES, Luke STUART, Joe GALUVAO, Shane RIGON. Bench: David FA?ALOGO, Stuart WEBB, Mark MINICHIELLO, Jaiman LOWE
In the fair dinkum department the 2006 team is a much better squad than their 2002 counterparts but the scariest part is the 2002 team still won 5 games. To match that feat of 5 wins the current Rabbitohs need to win 38% of their remaining games (which is 5 of 13). And the tough part is the current NRL has better teams to beat than the 2002 squads than the Rabbits faced off against.
For the record the Bunnies beat Canberra twice (30-22 in Rd2 & 26-20 in Rd9), the Northern Eagles 44-20 in Rd3, Penrith 23-16 in Rd17 and the Wests Tigers 38-24 in Rd18. And of those teams only Canberra made the Finals that season.
So can the ?new? South Sydney thrive in the NRL?
I believe they can and ultimately they will. But how quickly that comes about has less to do with the new ownership and current coach and CEO as it has to do with the rushed and poor preparations the club made in the lead up to their re-admission in 2002.
That is the real reason why the South Sydney Rabbitohs of 2006 are struggling, but the club will recover as Shane Richardson and the new ownership in particular get on with the job. And as for Shaun McRae I hope the fans and the media realise that it doesn?t matter how great a coach you may be ? without the cattle you simply cannot win consistently.
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