With a nine-game winning streak the South Sydney Rabbitohs elevated them from bottom-eight side in 2017 to genuine title contenders in 2018, but they struggled to maintain consistency at the business end of the season.
Still, their season can't be written off as a failure considering the club made a massive leap from finishing 11th in 2017 to a third-place finish this year, falling one game short of the grand final.
Coach Anthony Seibold played an integral part in the club's development throughout the season, introducing a new game model based around pressure and efforts.
There are still big questions surrounding their 2019 campaign with Seibold bound for the Broncos in 2020 – and possibly earlier.
The club farewelled Jason Clark (Warrington), Angus Crichton (Roosters) and Tyrell Fuimaono (Panthers) at the end of the season, while welcoming Kurt Dillon from Sharks, Bayley Sironen from Wests Tigers and Corey Allan from Broncos.
"Seibs brought in a simple but effective game plan and one we had to be consistent with," Cameron Murray told NRL.com.
"He also brought a new coaching perspective which really resonated well with me – with a big focus on refocusing our mindset and the way we would approach each week regardless of the result the week before. It was always a 'next job' mentality.
"It is disappointing to look back on that Roosters game and the way we exited the competition but we simply couldn't step up like the other teams did during the finals.
"Although it is unfortunate looking back, our full focus is on next season and how we can rectify what we did wrong last season and how we can secure that 22nd premiership for the club."
Home & Away record
9-3 home, 7-5 away
The Rabbitohs made a significant improvement both home and on the road, compared to 2017. They won five more games in front of a home crowd, while winning two extra away games.
"It comes back to that 'next job' mentality that Seibs brings to the squad and that competitive nature that grew on every player here," Murray said.
"We try and put our best foot forward and our best performance each week regardless if it's a home or away. And everyone was determined to get better each week regardless of the results."
Leading try scorers
Robert Jennings took the crown for most tries scored with 18 meat pies in 21 games on the left wing. Cody Walker ranked second with 12 tries while Greg Inglis was third on eight.
Post-contact metres per game
Bunnies enforcer Sam Burgess lead the charge with just under 50 post-contact metres per game, ahead of Inglis (46.4) and Crichton (45.9).
"Sam (Burgess) led the way in a lot of areas in our game this year," Murray said.
"Being one of the senior leaders in our squad, he's that person that you look up to for a big play or general leadership.
"I learnt things from him everyday – from things about mindset to little tricks around how a can tweak a few things in my game."
Try scoring – attacking channels
South Sydney scored a total of 98 tries in 2018, averaging 4.1 tries per game. Half of those tries were scored down the left or centre-left channel, while 31% were down the right or centre-right channel. The Bunnies also finished games strongly, scoring 31% of their tries in the last 20 minutes of matches.
"That left side gelled really well together this year," Murray said.
"I think Cody (Walker) has a big influence in calling the shots on that side – his attacking game is pretty strong and he's illusive in the way he runs and with the ball in hand.
"Rob Jennings is a really good finisher as well in the corner and Greg's leadership down that side tops it off. Hopefully we can build upon that next season and be as successful as we were down that side this year."
Tries conceded – defending channels
He topped their try count in attack but in defence Robert Jennings (14) ranked second only to Dane Gagai (15) for most tries causes. The Bunnies conceded 73 tries with an average of three tries per game and 49% were conceded down the right or centre-right channel, with 37% down the left or centre-left channel.
Tries conceded from penalties
The Rabbitohs ranked eighth for most tries conceded following penalties with a total of 30. In this area of their game South Sydney weren't able to absorb the pressure as well as fellow top-four teams the Roosters (ranked 14), Storm (ranked 15) and Sharks (ranked 12). Angus Crichton was the most penalised player in the squad with 26, ahead of Sam Burgess with 25.
Metres gained from offloads
South Sydney attempted 265 offloads in 2018 with an impressive effective percentage rate of 94%. Crichton led the way with 39 offloads at 92%, and also ranked first in terms of metres gained by teammates from offloads – collecting 235.2 metres. Sam Burgess was next best with 228.2 metres, with a significant gap between that duo and the third-ranked Damien Cook (154.8 metres).
"Offloads and off-the-cuff plays like that was built from the confidence the team has in one another," Murray said.
"It wasn't something that we practised but when we're on a roll and our confidence is high, we're confident that we can execute off the cuff plays like that.
"Cody (Walker) is really good at backing up and supporting – his game awareness is second to none. Same as AJ (Alex Johnston), you can always rely on him to be there too."
Kicking a total of 94 goals out of 129 attempts, the Bunnies missed out on 70 potential points through the season. Adam Reynolds slotted 55 conversion from 82 attempts and 29 penalty goals from 30 attempts, while Adam Doueihi kicked eight conversions from 14 attempts and was successful in the only penalty goal he kicked – the pair finished with a combined 78.23% success rate.
"Everyone knows how reliable Reynolds is, especially under high-pressure situations," Murray said.
"It showed in our semi finals against the Dragons what he can do under pressure and what he can do for the team.
"And that's Reyno's job – to kick goals and be that high pressure performer who if need be will slot of drop goals in the dying seconds.
"Everyone's got confidence in each and every player – regardless of how long is left, what position we're in or how far in front or behind we are, we're all confident that everyone will step up in their roles and get the job done."
Decoys per game & linebreaks per game
One aspect of South Sydney's game that couldn't be faulted was their effort in supporting their teammates. They led the competition for most effective decoy runs (61.8) and line breaks (5.2) per game.
"We had a pretty simple but effective shape all the way through the season and we always trained to be live and always be an option," Murray said.
"Everyone played a part in those linebreaks because everyone knew what their job was and the right lines to run.
"It helped having a few big bodies like Angus who runs a really good line, and the Burgess boys who as a decoy attract a lot of players if they're running the right shape, which they did for most of the season."
Shifts from quick play-the-balls
Damien Cook played an integral part of the speed of the Rabbitohs' game – it resulted in the them ranking at the top of the leaderboard for shifts from quick play-the-balls with a total of 251 and a percentage of 19.3%, compared to the NRL average of 16% and top-four average of 17.3%.
"We trained to play to each other's strengths and the coaching staff identified Cooky's strength early in the season," Murray said.
"And also identified that regardless of having one of the quickest men out of the ruck in the game, it was vital for the anyone who carried the ball into contact to produce a quick play-the-ball.
"Playing a fast-paced game was advantageous to us and every effective, so that's what we based our game model of pressure and efforts on."