In NRL.com's club-by-club series delving into the 2017 season analytics, Paul Zalunardo and Chris Kennedy look at how the South Sydney Rabbitohs fell short of their finals dream and how they’re revamping their roster to return to the playoffs.
The season started poorly for South Sydney, suffering a heavy opening-round loss to the Wests Tigers and losing captain Greg Inglis for the season with an ACL injury.
Despite finishing 12th, with the second-worst home record of any club, there were plenty of bright spots for the club, including the number of promising youngsters who made their debut and a few players – such as Cody Walker and Alex Johnston – registering some impressive attacking numbers.
When they completed their sets at a rate better than 80 per cent, they won six of nine matches. When they did not reach that benchmark, they were successful only four times from their remaining 15 games.
"We did play some really good footy [towards the end], we know the footy is there, it's just we've got to play it more consistently over the season," Walker told NRL.com.
"There were some really high points this year and there were some really low points. Consistency is a massive thing and I think our completion rate plays a massive part in that. I think every game we lost we lost the completion rate by a fair bit so that tells a sign to us."
Despite the always enthusiastic presence of The Burrow’s dedicated fans, the Rabbitohs could not muster an impressive home record. They finished with a concerning 4-8 record for home fixtures mainly due to being well below the NRL average for points scored.
Alex Johnston was a one-man band for the Rabbitohs. His superb haul was behind only Storm speedster Suliasi Vunivalu and 13 clear of the next-best Rabbitoh. The arrival of Dane Gagai and Greg Inglis’ return from injury should help Souths reclaim their attacking spark in 2018.
Hooker Damien Cook said Johnston's attacking feats were even more impressive given he was shifted between fullback and wing.
"When he gets in the middle of the field, speed beats anything, you can't compete with it," Cook said."
"Someone as fast as AJ, give him a bit of space, he's got great footwork, any half break he's going to take advantage of."
The fact Adam Reynolds was below the NRL average in this category is a shock. The former NSW halfback finished fourth in the NRL for total kicking metres.
A large part of the reason why Alex Johnston scored 22 tries was his superb support play. He finished second behind teammate Cody Walker in this category.
Thomas Burgess and Damien Cook led the way, but the Rabbitohs failed to get anyone into the top 12 in the NRL. Surprisingly, Sam Burgess didn't even finish in the Rabbitohs' top 10.
No-one can question the commitment of South Sydney skipper Sam Burgess. But the one downside of his efforts was the fact he gave away 20 penalties, which was the eighth-highest total of any NRL player.
Souths finished the year as the seventh-worst team in terms of errors, and brothers Sam and Thomas Burgess were responsible for 38 of those. No Rabbitoh was in the NRL’s top 10.
In information provided by NRL.com/stats, rival teams didn’t think trying to bring down big bopper George Burgess with one defender was a good idea. He led the league in this category but was the only Souths player in the top 30.
As a hooker, Cook stands to benefit from the extra time and space generated by Burgess's monstrous carries.
"When he goes forward he's pretty unstoppable and we play some good footy off the back of him," Cook said.
"He probably doesn't realise how important he is to our team and when he draws three or four defenders in, it's good for me, it's good for the halves. He's doing it at training too. I'm sick of playing against him – it takes four people to bring him down!"
South Sydney’s unhappy season was reflected in having nobody in the top 16 in this category. Anthony Cherrington, who played just five matches, and Damien Cook led the way with modest totals.
As well as leading the Rabbitohs in this category, Cody Walker had the third-highest number of try assists in the NRL, behind only Titans halfback Ash Taylor and Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans.
. He had the best average for line break involvements across the NRL.
"During certain drills if you're going up the middle of the field he's always there supporting the ball or he's looking for offloads," Cook said.
"He makes himself available and I think that's one of his best traits, he makes himself available and he's always there. He's a game winner and a point scorer. That's what you need in teams.
"He's not your normal halfback, he goes off on his own a little bit and runs a bit sideways, steps, a bit of footwork, a bit of ad-lib footy. It's what he loves and it pays off for him."