2020 Preview: South Sydney Rabbitohs

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After getting one game from the grand final in consecutive years, the Rabbitohs will be hoping star recruit Latrell Mitchell can combine with supercoach Wayne Bennett to bring the Provan-Summons trophy back to Redfern for the second time in 7 years.

While they have done an outstanding job of making themselves a mainstay near the top of the ladder in recent seasons, there is the risk of making a habit of falling at the penultimate hurdle. While that is a scenario some rival supporters could only dream of, the red and green faithful will be hoping their side can go two better in 2020.

After a dream start to 2019 where they won 10 of their first 11 games, the lone defeat being a golden point nail-biter against Manly, the Rabbitohs ended up plateauing at the business end of the season and limped their way into September where - despite a close win in week two - they never really fired a shot.

On the surface, South Sydney appear a side destined for greatness in 2020. Prodigal son Adam Reynolds has been recently unveiled as the foundation club's captain and they boast one of the strongest backlines in the comp, headlined by dual premiership winner Mitchell. So stacked with talent in that department are the Bunnies, that even after releasing young gun Adam Doueihi to the Wests Tigers, they're still unable to fit two of either Dane Gagai, Campbell Graham, Corey Allan and Alex Johnston into their starting side - a headache Bennett no doubt doesn't mind having.

Their forward pack however, while formidable at full strength, appears to be lacking depth following the departures of club legends John Sutton and Sam Burgess. This means they are only ever an injury or two from being completely decimated. This isn't helped by the fact the club's prospects of luring origin forward Jai Arrow to Redfern one year earlier than contracted are growing slimmer and slimmer by day. They will be expecting big years from Tom Burgess, who is now the only Burgess contracted to Souths (in a playing role, at least) and Liam Knight, who is coming off a breakout 2019 after struggling to fit in at a number of other NRL clubs.

The big question on everyone's lips regarding the Rabbitohs this year is undoubtedly Latrell and how he will go at fullback after not playing there regularly for three years. Over this and many other off-seasons in recent memory, there hasn't been as much conjecture over a player's future as there was for him over 2019/20, and supporters and critics alike will be eager to see him in action at the back. We got our first taste in the NRL All Stars match recently, and while he made some promising runs and looked dangerous at times - even providing an offload that would've seen Josh Addo-Carr run the length of the field had the Storm winger been able to hold onto the ball, it must be said that he struggled to get himself involved in the play and his positioning under the high ball needed work. He was put back to left centre in the second half, and as such we are no closer to figuring out what the success of Mitchell as a fullback will be at the end of that 80 minutes than we were at the start.

Why they'll win it

On their day, South Sydney are one of the most exciting teams to watch with ball in hand. All the players in key positions are coming into their prime as NRL footballers, particularly Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds who both turn 30 in 2020, and they have the best of the best pulling the strings behind the scenes in Wayne Bennett, who will be tapping into every one of his 32 years' experience as a head coach to ensure his side are up for the fight week in week out. If he can succeed in doing so, there's no reason the Rabbitohs can't be lifting the trophy come the first week of October.

Why they won't 

Their forwards. It's been alluded to earlier in this piece, but Souths are short on both depth and quality in the forward pack this season. Cameron Murray is the obvious standout, but they experienced an all-too-regular lull whenever he came off the field in 2019, and without fearless leader Sam Burgess, there aren't any signs that show that will be alleviated. Their front and back row are solid, but to win an NRL premiership your forwards need to be a lot more than solid and it remains to be seen whether they can match it with stronger forward packs like the Roosters and Raiders.

Damien Cook has also been renowned to struggle whenever his forwards aren't dominating and laying a platform, which adds to their responsibility in 2020.

2020 Draw

The Bunnies' home draw is disjointed this year with the ANZ Stadium rebuild shutting the Olympic venue halfway through the season. They will play seven of their 12 home games there before it closes in June, with other home games at Suncorp (Magic Round), Sunshine Coast Stadium, Central Coast Stadium, and two at Bankwest Stadium, where the team will play most of its games in future seasons prior to ANZ's re-opening.

The first half of the season sees the Bunnies travel quite a bit, with Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra, Townsville and Newcastle all getting visits from the cardinal and myrtle. Once Origin hits, they don't leave Sydney for months, and only travel for two more matches before the end of the year - back to back Queensland matches in August.

Fans of their rivalry with foundation club the Roosters will want to mark down Rounds 3 and 24.

Key players

Heading into 2020, the Rabbitohs have arguably the best spine in the comp consisting of Mitchell at the back, Walker and Reynolds in the halves and the scintillating Cook at rake. Whenever we have seen Souths at their best over the last couple of years it has come off the back of Cook's ability to expose lazy defenders with his dynamic scoot out of dummy half and then link up with either Walker or Reynolds. Adding Latrell into the mix? That has the potential to produce entertainment to the max.

James Roberts is reportedly the "fittest he's ever been" and he played as well as we've seen him in a long time for the All Stars and to an observer looked to be enjoying his footy again. There's no shortage of competition in the back 5 at Souths which is surely motivation enough for "the jet" to be giving everything he can defensively, which was a problem for him last year.  

Rookie to watch 

One positive that could be taken out of the Rabbitohs lack of depth in the forwards is that there are several young guns who could be gifted an opportunity. Jack Johns, son of Matty, looked promising in his sides trial match against the Eels, scoring a try and making several damaging runs. If either Lowe or Su'A goes down with injury during the season Johns could find himself in the 17.

It's also worth noting that Souths have secured the services of Joseph Suaalii until 2021, a 16-year-old prodigy who fielded offers from Rugby Australia. He won't play first grade for a while but he's one to keep an eye on in the lower grades. Edene Gebbie is also, by all reports, a speed machine and could play a role for Souths off the bench.

Player movements

New signings for 2020: Troy Dargan (Broncos), Edene Gebbie (Wynnum Manly), Bryson Goodwin (Warrington), Jaxson Paulo (Titans), Steven Marsters (Dragons), Jaxson Paulo (Titans), Latrell Mitchell (Roosters)

Contracted for 2020: Corey Allan, Tom Amone, Tom Burgess, Braidon Burns, Damien Cook, Joshua Cook, Cory Denniss, Kurt Dillon, Dane Gagai, Campbell Graham, Dean Hawkins, Alex Johnston, Liam Knight, Keaon Kolomatangi, Ethan Lowe, Cameron Murray, Mark Nicholls, Adam Reynolds, James Roberts, Ky Rodwell, Bayley Sironen, Jaydn Su'A, Tevita Tatola, Cody Walker

2020 Development contracts: Brock Gardner, Edene Gebbie, Jack Johns, Jaxson Paulo

Losses: Dean Britt (Bulldogs), George Burgess (Wigan), Connor Tracey, Mawene Hiroti (Sharks), Sam Burgess, John Sutton, Kyle Turner & Greg Inglis (all retired), Adam Doueihi (Wests Tigers), Billy Brittain (Dragons), Jacob Gagan (released)

Best 17

1.    Latrell Mitchell
2.    Dane Gagai
3.    James Roberts
4.    Braidon Burns
5.    Campbell Graham
6.    Cody Walker
7.    Adam Reynolds
8.    Tom Burgess
9.    Damien Cook
10.    Liam Knight
11.    Ethan Lowe
12.    Jayden Su'A
13.    Cameron Murray

14.    Edene Gebbie
15.    Mark Nicholls
16.    Tevita Tatola
17.    Tom Amone