South Sydney have leapt to the defence of coach Michael Maguire as they prepare to miss the NRL finals for the first time under his stewardship.
Pressure is mounting on Maguire with the Rabbitohs losing their past six games and sitting six points outside the top eight in 13th with seven rounds remaining.
The Rabbitohs’ equation is simple – win seven from seven or perish before the finals and standing in their way is a tough draw that includes five top-eight sides including Cronulla, Melbourne, Canterbury and Canberra.
Despite being one of the big underperformers this season, the likes of George Burgess and Alex Johnston praised Maguire’s leadership and dismissed criticisms of his coaching style.
Asked if Maguire was the man to lead them out of their lull, Burgess said: “We’ve got a lot of belief in Michael Maguire.
“He’s taken us to some great times. There’s highs and low in sport so you’ve just got to ride through them.”
The Rabbitohs have this year looked shades of the side that won the premiership two years ago under Maguire.
Their 30-10 defeat to Brisbane on Saturday night was the 11th straight match in which they have conceded 20-plus points.
During their premiership breakthrough season, they let in an average of just 15.1 points during the regular rounds, the lowest in the competition, and Burgess was at a loss to explain why their defensive resolve had abandoned them.
Souths built their title win on the back of their dominance through the middle, but they are ranked 15th in the competition for metres made in 2016, only behind last-placed Newcastle.
Maguire has at various stages of his career been accused of pushing his players too hard but Johnston said he had no concerns about burn out.
He said it was up to the players to step up.
“It comes down to the boys. We’ve just got to bring it all out on the field and bring it all together,” Johnston said.