The Rabbitohs are set for a big year in 2017 after a strong, drama free off-season and with new faces slotting in to add competitive depth to their playing ranks.
Souths appear to have solved their No.9 conundrum by securing the services of NSW Origin rake Robbie Farah, who looks set to form a dynamic partnership with Damien Cook in the middle of the field. Coupled with a strong finish to season – which saw the Rabbitohs record four straight wins – there's plenty of reason for optimism around Redfern again after missing out on the finals for the first time under coach Michael Maguire in 2016.
Gains and losses
Gains: Tyrell Fuimaono (Eels), Robbie Rochow (Knights), Connor Tracey (Sharks), Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers), Luke Kelly (Eels), Anthony Cherrington (Redcliffe Dolphins), Robert Jennings (Panthers), Brett Greinke (Broncos).
Losses: Joe Burgess (Wigan), Luke Keary (Roosters), Paul Carter (Roosters), Kirisome Auva'a (Eels), Cameron McInnes (Dragons), Nathan Brown (Eels), Michael Oldfield (Panthers).
What we know
When the Rabbitohs clinched premiership No.21 in 2014, it was their power game through the middle third of the field which yielded success. Charging runs from their big men – led by the Burgess brothers – allowed Issac Luke to work his magic, Reynolds to pull the strings and Greg Inglis to chime in from the back. Fast forward to 2017 and you get the feeling they could replicate this formula by allowing everything to run through the experienced Farah. Sam Burgess has 12 months back in the game under his belt, George Burgess seems to have put his injury woes behind him, Zane Musgrove's development continues and the addition of Robbie Rochow will help add some bulk up front. Souths look to be in a healthy position to return to the top eight.
Maguire blooded several rookies in 2016 with Cody Walker, Siosifa Talakai, Angus Crichton, Ed Murphy, Jack Gosiewski, Tautalatasi Tasi and Musgrove all making their first grade debuts. While the squad should be more settled there are still a few fresh faces in with a chance of forcing their way into the NRL side. Braidon Burns did his chances of earning a first grade debut no harm with an eye-catching two-try performance in the Charity Shield, particularly given the injury to Aaron Gray which has opened up a spot in the backline for the first few weeks of the season. Brett Greinke and Cameron Murray also could feature at some point later in the year.
Souths look well-placed to cover injuries across the squad, with a host of young talent in particular waiting in the wings for their shot in first grade. Talakai, Burns, Robert Jennings and the more experienced Dane Nielsen provide cover across the backline, Luke Kelly (as well as Farah and John Sutton) can deputise in the halves, while up front Crichton, Anthony Cherrington, Gosiewski and Musgrove will be fighting for spots in the pack. Cook and Farah have more than adequately covered hooker, while Alex Johnston can step in at fullback when Greg Inglis is away on rep duty.
With a settled Walker-Reynolds halves pairing, an improved-looking pack and the potential for one of the game's most exciting dummy-half duos, things are looking up for the Rabbitohs. Farah could prove to be one of the signings of the season if the (very) early signs are any indication, with Cook to cause plenty of headaches from the interchange. After an underwhelming season last time out, the opportunity to give his young charges plenty of time in first grade should hold Maguire's side in good stead. Assuming the squad remains largely healthy there's no reason why Souths shouldn't return to the top eight.