NRL 2020: South Sydney Rabbitohs, Wayne Bennett, the rebuilding that helped...

NRL 2020: South Sydney Rabbitohs, Wayne Bennett, the rebuilding that helped...
NRL 2020: South Sydney Rabbitohs, Wayne Bennett, the rebuilding that helped...
One of the first things Wayne Bennett asked when he took over South Sydney last year was why the Rabbitohs bothered to pick 17 players each week.

“You don’t use them,” Bennett said to South’s officers.

Last season, the Rabbitohs under Anthony Seibold often had exchange players who saw no action, even in all three finals in 2018.

Hymel Hunt stayed on the bench in all three play-off games, while Dean Britt was also not used in the pre-finals and Jason Clark only got 20 minutes of playing time on his farewell appearance for the club.

Prop Tevita Tatola only played six minutes against Sydney Roosters, while Britt got 12 minutes in that game and 10 minutes against St. George Illawarra the following week.

“The coaches used to pick 17 players, but when they had two players they thought they weren’t good enough, they didn’t use them,” said Shane Richardson, former GM of Rabbitohs Football.

“Wayne’s philosophy since arriving at the club has been to play these four players no matter what, and distribute them so that they feel part of the team – and not just give them five or ten minutes.”

“That’s why people like Liam Knight, Mark Nichols, Bayley Sironen, and Corey Allan all play with such confidence because Wayne showed confidence in them from the bank.”

After just one final in the 35 seasons prior to 2012, the Rabbitohs have now confirmed their reputation as one of the NRL’s power clubs by qualifying for their sixth pre-final in nine years against Penrith at the ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.

Only the Storm have played more group games, and in addition to the successive premieres, the Sydney Roosters, who have also managed the feat six times, the next best clubs since 2012 – the Cowboys and Raiders – are way behind.

Impressively, the Rabbitohs have overcome the loss of Origin representatives Latrell Mitchell, James Roberts and Ethan Lowe to injury, while the club’s last three captains – John Sutton, Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess – retired last season went.

Next season the club will be backed by the Titans through the signing of Queensland Origin striker Jai Arrow, while Mitchell only played 14 games in his first year at Redfern.

“I don’t think the club has the recognition it deserves,” said Richardson. “You have to win the grand final, but there are a lot of clubs that I’m sure would have liked to have played in six of the last nine preliminary rounds.

“I’m proud that we did that, but more importantly, we did it and made a profit every year.”

However, things haven’t all been smooth since Michael Maguire oversaw the end of a 43-year drought in 2014. Pressure on the salary cap forced the club to rebuild, Seibold resigned in 2018 and the unexpected losses of Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess.

Half-combinations hold the key in Panthers-Rabbitohs clash

Only Adam Reynolds, Tom Burgess and Alex Johnston emerged from the big final team in 2014. Souths has lost since losing Luke Keary, Nathan Brown, Angus Crichton and Adam Doueihi, while Inglis, Sam Burgess and Sutton retired.

After missing the 2016 final, the Rabbitohs focused on recruiting young talents like center Braidon Burns and winger Robert Jennings and developing players through their U20 and NSW Cup teams.

“We had problems with the salary cap, so we had to buy good young players who weren’t expensive like Braidon Burns and Robert Jennings and later Corey Allan,” said Richardson.

“We hunted [Panthers five-eighth] Jarome Luai, but we missed him.

“We were able to promote players like Jaxson Paulo and Keaon Koloamatangi who played on our U20 team that won the grand final last year, and we have another group of young players behind us.”

“Our second grade was a point away from that [NSWRL’s Canterbury Cup] a small Premier League last year and finished third, and our under 20s won the Premier League.

“Succession planning is not just about getting where we are now, it’s about staying there and staying in a strong financial position.”

Burns was lured by Penrith before making his NRL debut, Tatola was signed to a pull-and-test contract and is now in the NSW Origin dispute, Knight languished in Canberra’s lower grades, and Sironen was a pick up in the Mid-season in 2019 of Wests Tigers.

After finishing tenth in Round 11, the Rabbitohs stormed home to end the regular season with a 60-8 record against the Roosters before knocking out Newcastle 46-2 and Parramatta 36-22 in the final.

“Wayne did a great job bringing the roster together and he’s never complained and he could have done it many times,” said Richardson.

“We lost Greg Inglis, Sam Burgess and John Sutton all at the same time, so the club had to rebuild a leadership group.

“In honor of the coaching staff, they have done a great job by putting Adam Reynolds and Damien Cook, Cody Walker and some of the younger guys in charge, in particular.

“In the last two seasons we have led up to halfway and lost momentum or had injuries, but with the depth we were able to overcome the injuries and gained momentum.”

“The belief Wayne has placed in this roster and recruitment needs a lot of credit.”

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