The finals countdown
Well, this is unfamiliar territory for Souths supporters. It’s July and the Rabbitohs are still very much in this competition. After a slow start, an unusual dose of consistency has been administered. Admiration and credibility have been bestowed by critics and there has even been talk of Souths as a genuine premiership threat.
For most supporters this uncharted terrain is both exciting and scary. They know how dangerous it can be to get carried away. The wounds from last round losses in the past two seasons are still fresh and supporters are understandably cautious when it comes to finals footy in 2012.
There is, nonetheless, much to admire about the 2012 team. Under coach Maguire we have seen a far more disciplined and consistent approach. There is an attention to detail that has been lacking in the past, and while the dropped bombs, the fumbles, the forward passes have not been eliminated, they have been drastically reduced. Gone are the “brain explosions” and, thankfully, many of the liability players who under previous coaching regimes seemed to have permanent tenure regardless of performance.
Much praise has been given to Maguire for the “masterstroke” of moving the world’s best centre, Greg Inglis, to fullback, and Inglis’ speedy ascent to world’s second-best fullback. To be fair, Maguire probably does not deserve this credit as his original plan was clearly to play Merritt at fullback. But a spate of backline injuries forced Maguire’s hand and GI at fullback has transformed the team.
Inglis has been delicate and dangerous at the same time. His sidestep to bamboozle the Raiders’ nimble fullback Simmons was sublime, and his brilliant fends and “Meninga- like” charges over the top of wary defences have been equally impressive.
Maguire should definitely take credit for many of Souths’ other successes, particularly the far more committed, consistent and involved John Sutton. With GI at fullback the pressure is off Sutton to be the playmaker, and he has simplified his game using his size in both attack and defence to greater effect. Sutton’s (and Souths’) biggest weakness in the past has been the inability to convert possession into tries when in the opposition’s quarter. GI has filled this void and his run-arounds with Sutton, and other willing and mobile forwards, has turned half chances into tries.
Adam Reynolds has been tremendous all year. The Waterloo boy brings some common sense to the halfback play that has been missing in previous years. He has proved to be a student of the game and a quick learner with judicious sixth-tackle kicks and the ability to make adjustments under pressure. His kicks have resulted in far more line dropouts, while his deft cross-kicks and grubbers have resulted in points. He has also proved to be an incredibly reliable goal kicker, currently boasting the highest conversion percentage in the league. His technique and commitment in defence has strengthened a previous weakness, and his chase and running down of predecessor Sandow in the Parramatta game is a season highlight.
The forwards have been impressive, particularly Clark, Tyrell and Crocker who have thrown themselves into attack and defence all season. Dave Taylor can lack consistency but he has done some freakish things at times, regularly appearing in the highlights package, grubbering or sidestepping to score. Issac Luke is another who seems to have responded well under Maguire’s tutelage. He may not have the kicking nor game-reading skills of Smith or Farah, but no other hooker is like Luke, and his ability to scoot from dummy half, bouncing and shrugging off defenders, is extraordinary.
As we move towards “the business end” of the season all the clichés seem to flow. So with a fairly soft draw over the next few weeks, I am sure we will be hearing “one game at a time” and, of course, “only time will tell” if Souths are genuine contenders.