Coach Michael Maguire said he was proud of the fight South Sydney showed in their NRL title defence after they were bundled out of the 2015 premiership race by Cronulla on Sunday.
The Rabbitohs fell to their fourth successive loss, to conclude their season at Allianz Stadium in the 28-12 loss to the Sharks in their elimination final.
What started as a season of promise for the Rabbitohs with wins in the Auckland Nines and the World Club Challenge ended in disappointment, after they were the first premiers to fail to progress past the first week of the playoffs since Manly in 2009.
Their cause wasn’t helped by late season injuries to John Sutton and Greg Inglis, who played the Sharks two weeks after knee surgery but was well below his best, with Issac Luke and George Burgess also missing through suspension.
“I don’t really want to make any excuse,” Maguire said.
“Every player that steps out there is very proud to wear that jersey.
“I spoke to our players about how lucky they are to be part of such a great club. There’s a lot of history in this club and we’ve been able to take this club to highs over the last three to four years.
“We’ve worked our butts off to achieve that again but I guess we lost a few players along the way, a few senior guys in John Sutton and Issac (Luke) and George (Burgess).”
Cronulla led 28-0 at the hour mark and the match was all but over.
The loss coming on the back of a 30-0 thrashing to arch-rivals Sydney Roosters the week before, a record 47-12 defeat to Brisbane and a 32-18 loss to Canterbury.
“I’m really proud of my players,” Maguire said.
“It’s not the finish to the season that we would have liked, everyone aspires to get to the end and we obviously had a great taste of that last year.
“It wasn’t to be this year. The boys tried and they continued to work hard for each other and I’m pretty proud of my players.”
Cronulla will play North Queensland in Townsville on Saturday night in the second semi-final. The Roosters host Canterbury in the other semi-final at Allianz Stadium on Friday night.
Brisbane have earned a week off and passage straight through to a preliminary final after defeating the Cowboys 16-12 at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
Melbourne will host a preliminary final too in the third week of the finals after defeating the Roosters 20-18 at Allianz Stadium on Friday night.