This article first appeared on theaustrailan.com.au last Thursday before our win over the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
South Sydney may not have had the season many expected, they may not finish in the top eight, they may not play finals football, they may yet lose to Canterbury tonight*, but there has been a silver lining among the dark clouds.
“Last year we set out to bring young players through and to the club,” Rabbitohs head of football Shane Richardson said.
“It is part of our recruitment policy to bring those young kids through. You’re going to have your ups and downs ... but they give you real hope because they want to be here and they have the interests of the team at heart.
“Last year we finished 10th with the (North Sydney) Bears in the NSW Cup and 16th in the NYC (under 20s), and we had 85 players on our books.
“This year we have 55 players, we’re currently fifth with the Bears and we’re on the verge of the top eight in the NYC. In fact, we’re probably the form team in the NYC over the last five weeks. So there is a lot of hope.”
Souths fans will point to the emergence of Angus Crichton as a back-row force and the promise of teenagers Cameron Murray and Campbell Graham, both of whom will play against the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium tonight.
Richardson throws in more teenagers yet to appear in first grade but with the potential to debut before the season is out, most notably Adam Doueihi and Sam Johnstone.
He also points to Braidon Burns and Zane Musgrove, players who have taken their game up a notch this season despite the club struggling to make an impression on the premiership.
“I think the important thing is we recognised the challenge last year and we have recruited youth, and they’re going to grow into quality players,” Richardson said.
“We did the same with Dylan Walker and Alex Johnston leading to the grand final (in 2014). We’re doing the same now with Campbell Graham, Cameron Murray, (Tyrell) Fuimaono, Braidon Burns.
“They have had their ups and downs but they will be so much better for it next year. It’s not always easy but we have a plan going forward.
“We have made sure our recruitment policy has been about recruiting quality people. We have a squad that is very, very tight. There is a stability in the club.
“Then we have all these young kids coming through who are ripping and tearing for their places in the side. No one wants to be out of the (top) eight but we have a plan for the next two or three years to take us where we want to be.”
Murray and Graham are the shining lights of that plan. Both have represented their state at underage level, Graham showing how equipped he is to handle the big stage when he made his debut in the win over St George Illawarra last week.
The 18-year-old is still studying for his HSC but his rugby league education has taken a giant leap forward over the past fortnight.
“He is a great kid,” Richardson said.
“He is a really good athlete, not just at rugby league. He comes through with a whole crop of people who have come through successfully.”
Little wonder Richardson is quick to dismiss the sense of gloom which has enveloped the club at times this year. The emergence of young stars has given hope to officials and supporters alike.
If that isn’t enough, South Sydney fans can take solace in the return and recruitment of a couple of other blokes who will add class and experience to their backline next season.
“There are a whole heap of young players who are coming through who are going to be outstanding players,” he said.
“I think the silver lining is that we invested in a policy to go forward on and those fruits have been clear for everybody to see.
“That’s the only way forward — to invest in youth and keep them coming through. Coupled with that there is a silver lining called Greg Inglis and Dane Gagai.
“That’s not a bad silver lining.”
*This article was written by Brent Read of The Australian before our Round 23 win over Canterbury.