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Reboot on the run: Why Rabbitohs again among title favourites

South Sydney do not plan to pursue another forward for this season if the Titans refuse to release Jai Arrow until 2021 in the belief they have enough depth among their middles to complement what is now arguably the NRL's best back line.

In the past nine months, Souths have lost their last three captains, 337-gamer John Sutton, Greg Inglis (265) and Sam Burgess (182), along with England prop George Burgess (150), who boast a combined 934 NRL appearances between them.

Yet the Rabbitohs have quickly rebuilt to again be among the premiership favourites after adding Latrell Mitchell to the list of recruits since Wayne Bennett took charge last season, which includes three players not even at Redfern 12 months ago in Ethan Lowe, Jaydn Su’A and James Roberts.

In addition, Souths have a host of young forward talent, with the likes of Keaon Koloamatangi, Tom Amone, Ky Rodwell and Kurt Dillon among eight props in their 29-man squad, along with Tom Burgess, Liam Knight, Tevita Tatola and Mark Nicholls.

"I think we have got more depth than we had last year, to be totally honest," Rabbitohs GM of football Shane Richardson said.

"We’ve planned well, not just for this year but the year after and probably the year after that as well. We’ve been planning a long way ahead.

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"Sam is a loss and you are never going to replace Sam but we have tried to reshape the side with the way we bring the ball back and obviously Latrell will make a big difference there. Eventually Arrow will slot in and pick the workload up in the middle."

Whether that is this season or in 2021 remains to be seen but the Rabbitohs believe their premiership window remains open even if Arrow doesn’t join them until next year and they have a strong leadership team of hooker Damien Cook and halves Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds.

Size and skill in the backs 

The signing of Mitchell ensures Souths have one of the best back lines any club has fielded in recent seasons, with the 22-year-old superstar set to take over the No.1 jersey favoured by Inglis during his illustrious career.

Alex Johnston, Corey Allan and Adam Doueihi played fullback at various stages last season after Inglis’s sudden retirement but it has been made clear since Mitchell fell out of favour with Sydney Roosters that it is his preferred position.

The halves pairing of Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker is one of the most established in the NRL, while Braidon Burns is again fit and expected to hold down a starting centre berth alongside Roberts, with Dane Gagai and Campbell Graham on the wings.

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In addition to Johnston, Allan and Doueihi, Bennett has former Kiwis centre Bryson Goodwin, Papua New Guinea utility back Edene Gebbie, Cook Islands rookie Steven Marsters and boom 20-year-old winger Jaxson Paulo to draw on.

"It is a great back line and we have got great depth," Richardson said. "Our spine has got some really good players but we have got depth under them as well.

"Troy Dargan has been really good for us, we’ve got young Dean Hawkins and also Blake Taafe, who was the NSW under 20s halfback/five-eighth last year so we have got plenty of good young halves coming through."

Forward strength 

Bennett will re-shape his pack after losing players of the calibre of Sam Burgess, George Burgess and Sutton.

Cameron Murray will continue wearing the No.13 jersey for as long as he plays for Souths and is expected to eventually have the © alongside his name too, while Su’A was signed just before last year’s June 30 deadline with a view to taking over from Sutton in the second row.

Lowe joined Souths on the eve of the opening-round clash with the Roosters and performed so well he earned a State of Origin debut for Queensland in the series decider at ANZ Stadium.

Rabbitohs forward Keaon Koloamatangi.
Rabbitohs forward Keaon Koloamatangi. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

Knight was recruited from Canberra last season and played 23 matches in the front row, one less than Nicholls, while Tatola featured in all 27 games for the club and Tom Burgess made 20 appearances.

The Rabbitohs have high hopes for Koloamatangi and the 191cm tall 21-year-old is equally comfortable playing in the middle or on an edge.

"We always knew that we had Koloamatangi coming through, and he will be good for us. We think he is going to be something special," Richardson said.

"It would be nice to have Jai Arrow [this season] but if we can’t get him we wouldn’t go out and get somebody else.

"We are not devoid of talent on the edge or in the middle so we feel pretty good about where we are."

Leaders abound

Sutton was one of five co-captains appointed by Michael Maguire when he became Souths coach in 2012, along with Sam Burgess, Roy Asotasi, Michael Crocker and Matt King, before taking over the skipper’s role on his own.

After captaining the Rabbitohs to their first premiership in 43 years in 2014, Sutton was replaced by Inglis the following season and Burgess has performed the job whenever he was unavailable.

Walker was given the role last year but Bennett is yet to decide who will be captain this season, and the other main contenders – Cook and Reynolds – have suggested the three of them will work together regardless of who leads the side onto the field each week.

Rabbitohs lock Cameron Murray.
Rabbitohs lock Cameron Murray. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

Murray is considered a future Souths and Australian captain but having only recently celebrated his 22nd birthday he is unlikely to be given the honour just yet.

Richardson also suggested Mitchell and Goodwin, who returns to the club after winning Warrington’s player’s player award last year, would have leadership roles.

"We have got lots of blokes who want to stand up and be leaders, you don’t have to prompt them," Richardson said of Walker, Cook, Reynolds and Murray.

"Under them we have got blokes like Dane Gagai, Latrell Mitchell is someone we see as a potential leader and a guy like Bryson Goodwin is really good for us because he brings a lot of leadership himself. We think he will be really good in the dressing room."