It was yet another case of so near yet so far for South Sydney last year. They reached their fifth-straight preliminary final but have still to convert this impressive consistency into their first premiership since 2014.
The Rabbitohs were believed to be in a period of transition last campaign after Wayne Bennett and Adam Reynolds, among plenty of others, exited stage left at Redfern.
But after overcoming a rocky transition that saw them win just two of their first five matches and languishing outside the top-eight in mid-June, Jason Demetriou got his side producing some exciting footy thanks to the telepathic understanding between Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker.
Having locked down the key members of their spine on long-term deals during the off-season, the Bunnies will enter into 2023 with greater stability than this time last year, but are they genuine contenders?
Souths have lost in prelim finals four times in the past five seasons, which is certainly an unwanted curse for the club that they will be trying to shake this time around.
The Sporting News previews the Rabbitohs’ season below – including their best 17, the key to their success and predicted finish.
Mark Nicholls (Dolphins), Kodi Nikorima (Dolphins), Jaxson Paulo (Roosters)
Continuity is the path to victory. Or, at least, that’s how South Sydney have chosen to operate being the only club to make zero signings in the off-season.
The club has backed their squad to improve after another year together and to finally get the job done.
Damien Cook, Mitchell and Walker have all been locked down long-term while young halfback Lachlan Ilias navigated the highs and lows of the NRL in his rookie season and will be better for it in 2023 to complete a strong spine.
The Bunnies backrow is also one of the best in the comp, with captain Cameron Murray supported on the edges by Jai Arrow and Keaon Koloamatangi.
However, the side is light up front following the departure of veteran Mark Nicholls. Injuries to their bench players Siliva Havili, Hame Sele and Liam Knight has already put a strain on their forward rotation for the beginning of the season.
Wherever star fullback Latrell Mitchell is, you can be sure that the headlines will follow.
After returning from his trip to America working with reconditioning specialist Bill Knowles, the fullback went on a tear to help drag the Bunnies up the ladder in the second half of the season.
In his 17 appearances last year, he contributed a career-high 17 try assists as well as seven four-pointers himself.
Although despite his undoubted brilliance, the No.1 hasn’t been able to take the field enough during the three years he has spent at the Bunnies through a mixture of injury and disciplinary issues.
In each of his first four seasons with the Roosters, Mitchell made more than 20 appearances. But this is something he has still yet to achieve at Redfern.
If he can do that in 2023, there is no ceiling to how high he can help push Souths.
If you’re not familiar with Josiah Karapani yet, something tells us you will be by the time the 2023 season is done and dusted.
A quick and powerful outside back capable of covering anywhere in the back-five, Karapani has plenty of wraps on him around South Sydney following his arrival from the Warriors as a teenager.
The 20-year-old has drawn comparisons to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and is already signed to the Rabbitohs’ top 30 roster for the next two seasons.
Karapani was a constant fixture in NSW Cup for the Bunnies in 2022 and with a lack of depth in the club’s backline, the young gun looks poised to make the jump to the NRL this year.
Rounds 1-5: Sharks[A], Panthers[A], Roosters[A], Sea Eagles[H], Storm[H]
The Bunnies have one of the toughest opening periods of the season, starting their campaign with three consecutive away games against fellow top four hopefuls Cronulla, Penrith and the Roosters.
They got off to a slow start last season that left them behind the eight ball and when they were crushed in Wollongong by the Dragons in round 15, many were left wondering if they were about to capitulate.
To their credit, they rallied and strung together four-straight wins in response before finishing the regular season with three victories and two losses.
Souths will want to avoid placing the same pressure on themselves this time around.
PREDICTED FINISH – 4TH
The Rabbitohs had the sixth best attack and the second most porous defence in the top eight last season on their way to a seventh-place finish.
Yet despite their poor first half of the season and general inconsistency, they finished just two wins outside the prized top four spot that they will be trying to claim in 2023.