THERE’S one stark fact that tells the story of how South Sydney’s season ended. Insiders say the bunnies didn’t have a soft tissue injury for the entire season – until their halfback tore his hamstring 26 minutes into the preliminary final against Canterbury.
“And we were matching the Bulldogs, set for set,” winger Nathan Merritt reflected. Some in the bunnies camp are confident they would have won had Adam Reynolds stayed on the field. Others concede Canterbury would have been hard to hold out anyway. We’ll never know.
But that only tells the story of how Souths’ season ended. It doesn’t tell the story of how the season was played – which was bravely, entertainingly and even stirringly. In the lead up to the preliminary final, Souths jumpers of every era from no sponsor at all through Smiths Crisps to today were dug from the bottom of closets and worn proudly to work, school or just to the corner shops.
Souths – at one stage dismissed as a millionaire’s plaything – had evoked the sort of solidarity that once led to the streets of Sydney being blocked by protesters. The disaffected, the lapsed supporters were back and the achievements of the team encouraged them to stay.
“Our fans, they like to see a team that tries,” says chief executive Shane Richardson. “That’s all they ask. And I can’t think of one game this year where the team didn’t.
“Our physio and medical staff did such a good job during the year that in our final game we had a full squad. So to have the game influenced by the sort of injury we didn’t have all year … well ‘disappointing’ is an understatement.”
After the 32-8 defeat to Canterbury on September 22, disappointment was evident. But in the post-match media conference and in the dressing sheds, it was eclipsed by something else that was almost palpable – pride.
“Greggy (Inglis) trying to stop that try right at the end – that’s what this club is all about now,” said coach Michael Maguire.
“As a playing group and as an organisation, we’re proud of where we’re heading. We’ve learned a lot of lessons this season and we’ve fought through various adversities at times.
“We’ve had wins and losses and I’m very pleased with the way the players have fought back after those situations. I’m pleased with the season but I also know as a team we’ve got a lot in front of us, to keep working.”
Co-captain Michael Crocker summed up 2012 (16 wins, eight losses) succinctly and perfectly: “We’ve come a long way in 12 months.
“We’re all about building our own history and our own culture and we’re all really proud of what we have achieved this year. Obviously we’re disappointed with the result (against Canterbury) but we were beaten by a better team. We know we have to work on that, work hard in the off-season and make sure we’re better next year.
“The support … 70,000 people … the support for us all year has been outstanding. It’s great for the game to have all those people here tonight, great for the club to have that support behind us.”
South Sydney players seemed to tacitly accept that they were in the top four sides in the NRL – which is a great improvement from 2011 (11 wins, 13 losses) – but not the top two.
“It’s been enjoyable definitely,” says the talismanic Greg Inglus. “Obviously it was a bit of a surprise to a lot of people, the switch to fullback (for me). It wasn’t a surprise to me. Michael Maguire tossed that up the first round of the season. I just had to work on my game, keep developing throughout the year.
“We’ll get back into the tough work of the pre-season, get a good pre-season under my belt and get ready to go back next year. Hopefully Sammy (Burgess) gets picked for the English side. He (plays for them) for a month and hopefully Luke Burgess gets picked as well.
“The best thing about this is we can take these feelings now. It sort of drove us, the finals loss in Melbourne. It really hurt us. We had to get back. We fought our way back but it’s the same – we’re very disappointed with the way it went (against Canterbury) and I think it will drive us through the whole off-season.”
Winger Nathan Merritt has seen some VERY lean times at Redfern. He says they won’t return any time soon and that fans which were once considered fickle will now be diehard.
“In previous years, we haven’t had too much support behind us,” said Merritt. “This year, we’ve strung a couple of wins together, played some good football, finished in the top four and we had a lot of support from our fan base.
“It was great to see from our perspective. We definitely love the crowd getting behind us and it definitely helps out on the field.
“I definitely think they will (stay). We’ve got a great squad behind us and we’ve just got to keep improving each year. This year was a great boost from last year.
“We’ve just got to take it forward to next year now. We’ll have a big pre-season and take that on board …. I think the fans will stay around because we’ve pretty much got the same kind of squad around and we’ll be competitive next year.
“We had a good experience in the finals for this year. We’ve got to take that on board, remember this pain and how much it hurts and take it into 2013 and improve on what we have to do to get to the grand final and win it.”
Hear that? Whether Souths ever stopped being the pride of the league is debatable. But even after falling a week short in 2012, Souths now have pride in themselves.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
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