The Rabbitohs decline was swift and remorseless as they went from champion to mid table to bottom table (they were 12th on the ladder but only because the Eels were stripped points) in just three seasons. The Rabbitohs were a very average side in 2015 but the return of Sam Burgess looked like it might be enough to get them back to being a contender but instead they went backwards.
There was no good reason for it other than the fact they weren’t very good. Players like Greg Inglis and George Burgess who had previously been superstars were poor to below average, Sam Burgess and Adam Reynolds were inconsistent and Nathan Brown and Cody Walker (of all people) were the only players capable of adding any spark.
If home field was an advantage you’d think that the side with the biggest membership base would probably have a pretty big advantage, but the Rabbits went 3-9 at home last season, which was only better than the hopeless Knights.
My suspicion, not backed up by any evidence, is that the Rabbitohs will be better in 2017. The only problem is the Roosters will also be better, the Eels (probably) won’t be stripped of competition points, the Warriors promise to be better….. the only side that finished ahead of the Rabbitohs that I believe will clearly be worse is the Dragons. And that’s the problem, not everyone can win more games so there could be a real scrap in the mid table, maybe I’m sceptical of the Bulldogs and Titans but even if I’m right the Rabbits need more than just three teams to fall away to make it back to the finals. The Storm, Raiders, Cowboys and Broncos should be the top sides. The Knights, Dragons and Sea Eagles (although it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they are more competitive this season) are probably the bottom sides. The rest of the teams it is a cluster of who the hell knows where they go. The Rabbits could finish 2nd or 13th and I wouldn’t be surprised, so could the Panthers, so could the Titans.
One interesting thing about the Rabbits’ decline is it coincides with a big drop in their TB/MT number. The TB/MT measures how many missed tackles a team forces their opponents to have (i.e. tackle breaks) less how many missed tackles a side themselves has. It is a nice way to get a sense of how dominant a side’s attack is versus how good its defense is. Here’s every team’s numbers over the last three years:
Obviously those Titans’ numbers are eye poppingly bad but I discuss those in their chapter, the other things that stick out is the rise of the Raiders and the decline of the Rabbits. The Rabbits broke 269 more tackles than they missed in 2014 which not only was the best number of 2014 it was the best number recorded over the three years. A couple of years later they only have 27 more tackle breaks than missed tackles, that was still 8th in the NRL but it is a huge decline. The Raiders meanwhile went from missing 103 more tackles than they broke in 2015 to breaking 259 more tackles than they missed in 2016, that’s a huge turnaround.
It won’t take you long looking at that chart to realise that the overall number each year isn’t well correlated with where a team sits on the table, the Roosters had the third best number last year but they only won six games, while the Broncos have been a pretty good side for a few years without stellar numbers. What is more relevant is where there are big improvement or decline in performance because that does seem to bare more relationship to whether a side improves or declines on the table. That makes sense too, when the Rabbits were a good team that must have at least in part been because they were dangerous in attack while being stingy on defense, if they stop doing that they stop being the side they were and become something else, in this case something much worse. The same thing goes for a lot of other teams that show improvement or decline.
Rabbitohs’ missed tackles have risen by 102 and tackle breaks dropped by 142. But let’s look at the tackle breaks. In 2014 the Rabbits had four players with more than 60 tackle breaks one of those (Dylan Walker) is no longer on the team but his 81 tackle breaks were replaced by Cody Walker’s 80, so let’s look at the other three:
That is a huge decline in raw numbers and only Sam Burgess’ is explainable by a reduction in minutes, Inglis was just mediocre and George was brother Luke for a season. These three players playing at 2014 level will be key to any Rabbits revival, if they don’t bounce back it will be a long year.
After spending some time at fullback Cody Walker should be Adam Reynolds’ first choice halves partner this year. The forward pack and interchange composition could be a little in the air, NRL.com has Rochow at prop, Gurgess on the bench and Tyrell out but I’m sure Tyrell will play. Is there room for Damien Cook on the bench?
2016 Positional Minute Splits
The most fascinating slot might be hooker. This was an 80 minute role on 11 occasions last season with Damien Cook getting the full game on five occasions and Cameron McInnes doing it on six. What does Robbie Farrah get?
I really like the depth on this Rabbitohs side, particularly in the back row where players like Crichton, Gosiewski, Murray and Grienke would be a lot higher up on most sides.
Average Fantasy Points Allowed Per Position
The Rabbits have been gradually slipping back after being the number one ranked Fantasy defense in 2014.
Key Fantasy Changes
We’ve got Robbie Farah at hooker and fitting in Robbie Rochow as the major changes that could impact on fantasy. Farah could be a decent option and the flow on impact of Rochow could be fantasy relevant.