Richie Barnett: Bunnies have mongrel and edge

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Sam Burgess of the Rabbitohs. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Burgess of the Rabbitohs. Photo / Getty Images

Trying to pick a winner in the NRL is a risky business at the best of times but I'm leaning towards the Rabbitohs taking it out this year.

They have so many things going for them this season.

They are the best defensive team in the competition and, if you defend well, the attack follows. Their biggest asset is the mongrel they bring to the game in both attack and defence and they defend their line with with real purpose.

They also have three of the game's best players in Sam Burgess, Issac Luke and Greg Inglis.

Burgess has been phenomenal, and will be a real loss to the NRL when he converts to rugby union next year, Luke continues to take his game to a new level and Inglis is, well, he can turn a game on its head.

There has been criticism in the past that Souths have been too predictable, based entirely around trying to dominate in the forwards, and teams need more than that at finals time.

That might be the case, but they have plenty of talent in the backline with the likes of Dylan Walker, Kyle Turner and Kirisome Auva'a, and their halves combination have developed considerably in the past 12 months.

Adam Reynolds always had potential but he's now playing with more than potential and, in Luke Keary, has a halves partner who can take some pressure off him.

I find it amusing people say the Rabbitohs are too predictable, and Wayne Bennett was one who said this. But Bennett won the title in 2010 with one of the most predictable sides in history.

Predictability can win the competition.

It's not as if the Storm, the best side over the past decade, aren't predictable. Everyone knows what their set-piece moves are, it's just they execute them so well.

Souths are also hugely motivated after coming close over the past couple of seasons. Those early exits hurt and they want to go further. They also won't have enjoyed the choker's tag many have labelled them with.

It's increasingly apparent how important a good coach is.

Michael Maguire has been with the Bunnies for a while now and has brought a disciplined edge to their play.

It's something Brad Arthur has brought to the Eels and what Andrew McFadden has added to the Warriors.

History shows title-winning teams generally finish in the top two of the regular season, but this year is shaping up a little different because it's the tightest competition I've seen.

The Roosters will also come to the fore, especially if they get Sonny Bill Williams back fit and firing, because they are slowly coming into form and the Sea Eagles will threaten.

Manly can win the competition, but only if Glenn Stewart returns from injury because he provides an important attacking threat and steel on defence. We saw last week what can happen without him, when they were flogged by Souths, and I'm not sure Stewart will be fit in time.

The Panthers have impressed me all season but, come finals time, I think they will fall away.

They just don't have enough firepower and will fall in the big games.

I will add two wildcards into the mix - the Cowboys and Warriors. I'm not sure they have the defensive discipline to win it but these two teams will scare anyone they come up against because they have x-factor, especially if the Warriors have Shaun Johnson on the field.

Maybe they can turn history on its head.

- NZ Herald

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