A Shallow Dive into the 2022 South Sydney Rabbitohs

Your men’s South Sydney Rabbitohs finished the 2022 NRL season in a relatively lowly seventh place with a 14-10 record, a slight underperformance of the Pythagorean expected wins of 14.7. The Bunnies had the sixth best attack, cracking 600 points, and conceded 474, the second worst of all finals teams. Souths went the hard way through the post-season, beating the Roosters, 30-10, and then beating the Sharks, 38-12, before hitting a brick wall in the form of the Panthers, 32-12, bouncing out of the competition in week three for the fourth time in five seasons.

There is no Rabbitohs NRLW team but they’d really like one and claim to “deserve” one.

The Victory Lap

From the pre-season deep dive:

2022 shapes as a season of transition. Jason Demetriou, long the apprentice, takes over as head coach and Adam Reynolds, long the leader and halfback, has left for Brisbane. How the Rabbitohs cope with changes at two of the most critical positions in the organisation will obviously define their season…

The question mark occupying the number 7 jersey is more pressing. Lachlan Ilias played there in the Charity Shield loss to the Dragons, Souths’ first loss in that fixture since 2012… but also not the kind of sample size from which sensible discussion is created. Still, I won’t be setting my expectations too high…

These two challenges, as small as they may or may not be, are probably enough to shift Souths out of top four but the rest of the team is simply too good to be much lower… Best case scenario might be another preliminary final loss but that, at least, should be seen as a win for the new era.

Best case scenario it was and I think that is a win for the new era.

What happened

It was a typical South Sydney season.

We’ve seen the strong finish to the season, multiple times across everal coaching systems: Seibold’s, Bennett’s and now Demetriou’s. 2019’s finish was stronger than 2018, 2020’s stronger again and 2021’s stronger still. This year was a step back, but hardly surprising considering the typical dropoff post-Bennett and how lopsided the 2021 season was. The results were all pretty much the same. It was close but not close enough.

What was unusual was the mid-season slump. While Souths started 1-3, two of those losses came against the Storm and the Panthers (the third was against the Broncos and Souths were unlucky to get them in the brief windows they were good, instead of being dogshit). The form rating didn’t crater then but did after a one point loss to the Tigers and remained decidedly mediocre after 20 point losses to the Broncos, Raiders and Dragons. Only a win against the Eels began the turnaround with a strong run home. The absence of Latrell Mitchell more or less aligns precisely with this slump, so perhaps that’s not so surprising.

The win over the Roosters in week one of the finals was the only mild surprise, with a predictable and formulated win over the Sharks followed by an equally predictable and formulated loss to the Panthers. At least they lost to the eventual premiers, unlike in 2019 and 2020. Better luck in 2023, I suppose.

As an aside, if there was any doubt, here are slashlines for the Rabbitohs’ former halfback and current halfbacks in season 2022:

  • Lachlan Ilias: 23 games played, .071 TPR, 0.3 WARG
  • Adam Reynolds: 20 games played, .117 TPR, 0.9 WARG

There’s always next year

There is and there’s no real reason to think Souths won’t keep doing what they’re doing. There’s scope to tighten things up. Some control over the wilder emotions that Mitchell plays with and/or some fitness work to keep him on the field (would that undermine his headspace? Only a question Souths can answer). Getting Walker to a place where he can lead the team without Mitchell or Reynolds. Thinking about a post-Cook hooker situation. Finding someone to play 7 long term. Fixing the leaky right edge with some replacement level outside backs. The Rabbitohs have shown what they can achieve with these problems, none of which are insurmountable and some of which aren’t immediate. So maybe they go around again, hitting the same walls again because that’s just what they are fated to do, but maybe it breaks right for them and they go on to glory, glory.