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Souths’ daunting back-to-back NRL task

Having ended one of rugby league’s longest droughts by lifting the Provan-Summons trophy last October, South Sydney are aiming to demolish another long-standing hoodoo by going back to back.

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In claiming the club’s 21st title in 2014 Souths gave their fans a taste of success they waited 43 years for.

And they’ve picked up where they left off by winning the pre-season Auckland Nines then thrashing St Helens by a record 39-0 to be crowned world club champions.

But to make it premiership No.22 in 2015 they’ll have to do something that hasn’t been achieved since Wayne Bennett’s Brisbane did the double in 1992-93.

“We just have to put 2014 aside,” says new captain Greg Inglis.

“We’ve got to train harder and really go out there and put our best foot forward every week.

“No one has done it for a while, and it’s going to be a challenge ahead, but it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.”

There are numerous reasons why titles are so hard to defend in the modern era, but one that sticks out is the strategy that carries a team to a premiership is invariably less effective the following season after it has been thoroughly disected by rivals.

The other pitfall is that a premiership often coincides with a turnover of players, upsetting the carefully-sculpted balance.

Coach Michael Maguire is confident the Rabbitohs’ ethos of respect and work ethic, which provided a team spirit and toughness not seen in red and green for decades, will offset the loss of impact forwards Sam Burgess and Ben Teo to English rugby union teams.

“That feeling of togetherness at the club is something that we want to continue and grow,” he said.

“We think we want to have a big improvement this year because every other team will be improving.”

The loss of those key forwards, so pivotal to the bash-and-barge gameplan that helped deliver the premiership, could have one benefit, forcing valuable tweaks to the playing style to accommodate their replacements, Glenn Stewart and Tim Grant.

With Stewart and John Sutton providing additional playmaking options on the edges, Souths have a new dimension to their attack – evidenced in the seven-try display against St Helens.

“(Stewart) brings a lot of knowledge, and a difference in the way we play. He’s a very good ballplayer,” Maguire told AAP.

“It gives us some opportunity on the right edge, and we’ve got John Sutton going on the left edge, then throw in our halves … it means that we can tinker with our game here.”

Just as playmaker Luke Keary predicts his partnership on the left with Sutton will grow, so too does halfback Adam Reynolds, who is excited by the prospect of linking with Stewart on the right.

“We have only had a few sessions together and it is something we are going to really nail down and try to get better each week,” Reynolds said.

“‘Gifty’ (Stewart) is a talented football player and to be around him with the experience he has helps my game as well.

“He is a ball player, a bit like Johnny Sutton, and he showed throughout his days at Manly that he is a great player.”

Despite the variety of attacking options, much of the pressure of South Sydney’s title defence will still fall on the shoulders of Inglis, the team’s best player and newly-installed leader.

“He has all sorts of leadership qualities,” Maguire said.

“He understands what’s required at every level. He’s a winner. And he’s only going to get better (as captain) with more time in that position.”

SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS

Premierships: 21 – 1908, 1909, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1931, 1932, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 2014.

Finishes over the past three seasons: 2014 – Premiers, 2013 – 3rd , 2012 – 3rd.

Coach: Michael Maguire

Captain: Greg Inglis

Gains: Glenn Stewart (Sea Eagles), Tim Grant (Panthers), Cody Walker (Storm), Daryl Millard (Catalans)

Losses: Sam Burgess (English rugby union), Ben Teo (English rugby union), Beau Champion (Eels), Apisai Koroisau (Panthers), Luke Burgess (Sea Eagles), Nathan Merritt (retired), Joe Picker (retired), Lote Tuqiri (retired).

Strength: Aside from a young, talented roster Souths also have one of the sharpest minds in the game in Maguire. He will ensure there is no complacency or premiership hangover.

Weakness: Hard to pinpoint one but the losses of Sam Burgess and Ben Te’o will certainly be felt from their forward-orientated gameplan.

Money Man: Greg Inglis. Arguably the best player in the game, Inglis is a devastating runner, a potent ballplayer and threat under the high ball. The complete package.

One to watch: Tim Grant and Glenn Stewart. Both endured unhappy departures from clubs they were expected to stay at for life. Expect plenty from them under Maguire.

Best team: Greg Inglis, Alex Johnston, Dylan Walker, Bryson Goodwin, Joel Reddy, Luke Keary, Adam Reynolds, George Burgess, Issac Luke, Dave Tyrell, Chris McQueen, John Sutton (c), Glenn Stewart. Interchange: Jason Clark, Tim Grant, Kyle Turner, Tom Burgess.

Predicted finish: 2nd

Betting: $6

 

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