The South Sydney Rabbitohs fell just short last season, and will be out for revenge in 2022, but some key departures are likely to make life difficult.
Making the grand final in 2021, the Rabbitohs tightened up their defence as the season went on after what could only be described as a sloppy start, having let in more than 50 points on two occasions in the middle of the season.
But their attack was something else, and will need to be again this year, with Cody Walker and Alex Johnston leading a left edge which broke all sorts of records.
Walker again shapes as the key following the departure of Adam Reynolds, while Dane Gagai has also left. Wayne Bennett is gone too and the Rabbitohs are in for a transformative year, but one which should still bring plenty of success.
Ins: Michael Chee-Kam (Wests Tigers, 2022), Siliva Havili (Canberra Raiders, 2023), Isaiah Tass (Brisbane Broncos, 2022)
Outs: Braidon Burns (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Joshua Cook (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Troy Dargan (released), Dane Gagai (Newcastle Knights), Brock Gardner (released), Joe Lovodua (Hull FC), Patrick Mago (Wigan Warriors), Benji Marshall (retired), Tautau Moga (St George Illawarra Dragons), Adam Reynolds (Brisbane Broncos), Jaydn Su'a (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Star player: Cody Walker
Walker finished in third spot on last year’s Dally M Medal count in what was an incredible campaign for the star five-eighth.
He recorded more than 30 try assists as part of the most damaging left edge in the competition, and while it was a dodgy pass in the grand final which unfortunately took the headlines, he will only have to stand up further this year as the club battle with key departures.
Rising star: Lachlan Ilias
Ilias comes into the side as the man to replace Adam Reynolds, and while it’s rare for a youngster with virtually no NRL experience to his name to be also a man under pressure, that is exactly what Ilias is this year as he attempts to fill the boots of the star halfback.
The youngster has impressed at junior level, and did so again during his debut last year, but will need to become a consistent NRL-level player in a hurry this year.
Most under pressure: Damien Cook
Cook comes into the season with an even larger role to play than he has had in previous seasons, but as always for the star New South Wales State of Origin hooker, consistency is going to be the key to not just his, but South Sydney’s season.
Accused of being a flat track bully at times, Cook has proven he is more than that, but an added weight of responsibility will be intriguing to see on his shoulders.
Five matches to watch
Match 1: Round 1, vs Broncos, at Suncorp Stadium (Fri, Mar 11, 8:05pm)
Match 2: Round 3, vs Roosters, at Accor Stadium (Fri, Mar 25, 8:05pm)
Match 3: Round 4, vs Panthers, at BlueBet Stadium (Fri, Apr 1, 8:05pm)
Match 4: Round 19, vs Storm, at Accor Stadium (Sat, Jul 23, 7:35pm)
Match 5: Round 25, vs Roosters, at TBC (Fri, Sep 2, 7:55pm)
The Rabbitohs are one of the tougher teams to predict this year, with the departures of Reynolds, Bennett and Gagai leaving an air of unknown and uncertainty over the club. Stars are still everywhere you look - Latrell Mitchell, Cameron Murray, as well as Cook and Walker among others.
But there is still that nagging doubt that it will be near on impossible for them to replicate what they were able to churn out in 2021. Expect South Sydney to end up somewhere around the top four, but ultimately miss out and have to fight for every inch through the finals series, which they will almost certainly still make.