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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Falling just short of a place in the season decider after losing to the Roosters in the preliminary final, South Sydney will be hoping the arrival of legendary coach Wayne Bennett enables the Rabbitohs to make the strides needed to claim premiership number 22 in 2019.
Far exceeding expectations under rookie coach Anthony Seibold after a steady decline following the drought breaking success of 2014, the Rabbitohs proved their wares as one of the form teams of the competition to finish the regular season in third position. Unable to penetrate their archrival's try line in a 12-4 loss to the eventual premiers, the final months of 2018 saw South Sydney and Brisbane engage in a farcical stand-off with Seibold and Bennett agreeing to the other's job for 2020. Ultimately resolved following action by the Broncos board to dismiss the seven-time premiership winning coach, the Rabbitohs will be hoping the coaching resolution paves the way for Bennett to amend his own recent history of promising so much only for his teams to come up short in premiership winning positions.
Taking a questionable approach towards recruitment with minimal signings of note and a major departure with NSW representative Angus Crichton defecting to the Roosters, Bennett will be out to get the best from a number of players unable to cement a regular place in first grade. Apart from recent addition Ethan Lowe, the new faces at Redfern, props Liam Knight and Kurt Dillon, versatile forward Bayley Sironen and centre Cory Denniss boast a combined NRL total of 34 games between them, while in a sign of life after Greg Inglis, former Brisbane fullback Corey Allan looks set for big things having been selected for the Prime Minister's XIII before debuting in first grade.
Drawn a first round chance to avenge last year's preliminary final loss against the Roosters at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the Rabbitohs should fare strongly over the opening weeks with a solitary match outside of Sydney scheduled before Round 9. Set to have the majority of first choice players available throughout the representative season, a tough run home featuring away trips to Brisbane and New Zealand along with clashes against both grand finalists will be the perfect preparation for a premiership tilt should Souths by up to the task.
Set to field a roster largely unchanged from the one that finished as top four finalists, the continuity throughout the playing ranks should see South Sydney qualify for the finals at a bare minimum. Unlikely to feel the burden of any player departures with the exception of Angus Crichton, the threat present throughout the Rabbitohs' best possible side rates among the finest in the entire league. Blessed with the incumbent Australian hooker, one of the best halfbacks in the game today and a forward pack known to trample opponents, the playing personnel at Wayne Bennett's disposal is more than capable of making a serious play for the Provan-Summons trophy.
For as imposing as South Sydney's forwards have proven to be at their best, the quality and depth of their contracted second rowers is a potential cause for concern. Despite bringing in Cowboys premiership winner Ethan Lowe as a replacement for Angus Crichton, the deserved promotion of Cameron Murray is set to have the unintended consequence of weakening the impact he provides off the bench, while doubts over John Sutton's ability to perform at his best are not without legitimacy given his standing as one of the league's oldest players. With limited options to step up in the event of an injury crisis, the lack of depth shapes as a fatal flaw to their premiership aspirations.
Entering his fourth year in the top grade after debuting well past the norm as a 26-year-old, Cody Walker will be out to make a strong impression on his new coach after previously knocking back an approach to join Brisbane on a three-year-deal. Going on to establish himself as the Rabbitohs preferred number six and represent NSW Country in the years following the Broncos offer, the Indigenous All Stars captain looks set to continue his standing as one of the best attacking players in the game today. Among the most prolific try scoring halves in the NRL having crossed for a dozen four-pointers last season, expect Walker to have a major say in where South Sydney finishes at end of 25 competition rounds and beyond.
It is not uncommon to hear of players representing second-tier nations in international football before debuting in first grade, however in an unprecedented move, South Sydney recruit Corey Allan will hold the distinction of playing his first game in the NRL after featuring for the Prime Minister's XIII at the end of last season. Set to turn 21 in April, the former Broncos outside back will be hoping the uncertainty surrounding Wayne Bennett's preferred number one plays to his advantage, while being similarly capable of following fellow fullback aspirant Alex Johnston's journey into first grade by playing on the wing.
Gains: Kurt Dillon (Sharks), Corey Allan (Broncos), Bayley Sironen (Tigers), Liam Knight (Raiders), Cory Denniss (Knights), Ethan Lowe (Cowboys).
Losses: Angus Crichton (Roosters), Tyrell Fuimaono (Panthers), Zane Musgrove (Tigers), Hymel Hunt (Knights), Jesse Arthars (Titans), Jason Clark (Warrington).