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Season review: Rabbitohs

South Sydney are facing missing the NRL finals for the first time in Michael Maguire's reign.
To say South Sydney underachieved in 2016 is a massive understatement
Photo Source: AAP

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The 2016 season was always going to be a challenge for South Sydney given the club lost Dylan Walker, Chris McQueen, Issac Luke and Glenn Stewart, but no one could have foreseen things would turn out as badly as they did for the 2014 premiers. The return of Sam Burgess was a positive but the wheels fell off soon after they opened the season with two big wins. A close loss to St George Illawarra in round three kicked off a run of six losses in the seven rounds. It was halted for two weeks but the Bunnies were a disaster after that, losing nine consecutive games.

Injuries contributed to the fall, with Adam Reynolds playing just 16 games after breaking his jaw in round one. Other key players to miss significant chunks of football included Tom and George Burgess, Hymel Hunt, Bryson Goodwin, John Sutton and playmaker Luke Keary, who is on his way to the Roosters for 2017. Keary had a blow-up with owner Russell Crowe in pre-season and it never really went away, while Kirisome Auva'a, Paul Carter and Chris Grevsmuhl - for different reasons - left the club during the year.

As bad as the season was, the Rabbitohs still managed to turn things around a little bit after a 50-point loss to the Raiders in round 21. Souths put together their best five weeks of the year to record four wins, including two over eventual finalists. With a bit of luck on the injury front, more off-field stability, the continued rise of Cody Walker and more of the same from Sam Burgess, the Rabbitohs should be pushing for finals again in 2017.

Six games that shaped the Rabbitohs' season
Round 3: Dragons d Rabbitohs 8-6
Both teams struggled in torrential rain at the SCG, although St George Illawarra handled the wet better, with Gareth Widdop enjoying a fine kicking game. A couple of penalties turned out to be the difference as the Dragons went into the sheds leading 8-6, which proved enough as the teams slogged out a scoreless second half. Apart from a neck injury to Sam Burgess, who ducked his head while running into a tackle and was stretchered off, the most memorable play of the match occurred at the death. Souths captain Greg Inglis inexplicably attempted a drop goal even though his team trailed by two. Perhaps it was a sign of how off the boil the Rabbits really were. Burgess would miss just one game with his neck problem.

Round 6: Roosters d Rabbitohs 17-10
Arguably South Sydney's worst showing of the year. Coming in against the winless and struggling Roosters, a team they had smashed 42-10 in round one, the Bunnies were hot favourites to back up a win over the Sea Eagles in round five. Instead, despite dominating early they found themselves down 10-0 after some poor defence allowed Daniel Tupou and Aidan Guerra to score. From there, Souths never looked like getting back into the game. Three more losses followed and at 3-6 after nine rounds, finals were starting to look very unlikely.

Round 13: Titans d Rabbitohs 29-28
A pair of solid wins against the Eels and Dragons appeared to have righted the ship, but South Sydney found themselves in all sorts of strife due to the efforts of Gold Coast halves Tyrone Roberts and Ashley Taylor and prop Ryan James, who had their team cruising 18-0 soon after half-time. The Rabbitohs then clicked into gear and had the better of the second half, with a last-minute try to Cameron McInnes and a Reynolds conversion levelling things up at the end of regular time. Both sides missed field-goal attempts, though Reynolds had a successful one denied due to interference, and in the second period of extra time Taylor broke South Sydney hearts with a field goal for the win. The loss really seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Bunnies, who proceeded to lose their next eight games.

Round 16: Panthers d Rabbitohs 28-26
This time around Souths dominated early but, as had happened far too often in the season, struggled to put it all together in attack and found themselves down by two at the break. In a see-sawing first hour the lead changed four times before Penrith surged clear, with a belated double to the Bunnies' best player all year, Sam Burgess, making the game look much closer than it was. 

Round 21: Raiders d Rabbitohs 54-4
This was rock bottom. It was as bad as it could possibly get for Souths fans, who not only had endured eight losses on the trot but also had to endure their team's worst effort in recent memory. On a day when everything that could go wrong did, Canberra ran rampant over the mistake-prone home side, scoring five tries in each half, while departing Rabbitohs five-eighth Keary tore his hamstring to end his season, with Luke Bateman and Angus Crichton also suffering concussions. Souths' season had officially turned ugly. 

Round 26: Rabbitohs d Bulldogs 28-10
Having nothing to play for but pride and therefore no pressure on them is not why South Sydney won this, their fourth game in a row, to end the 2016 season on a high note. They had been playing for nothing for weeks actually, as their season had been over since about round 18. No, this game and those leading into it were won on the back of their defence, which had been good all year, and a much-improved attack. Sam Burgess once again led the way along with Reynolds, while Joe Burgess grabbed a double. All the talk after the game was about how rosy 2017 was looking on the back of the team's better recent form. But disgruntled fans had every right to ask where this intensity and drive had been when it counted.

Will the Bunnies play finals in 2017? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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