South Sydney will conclude one of the poorer premiership defences in recent rugby league history if they lose to Cronulla in Sunday’s elimination final.
The Canterbury side of 2005 put up the worst defence of their title since the NRL was formed in 1998, after they lost their final six games of the season to plummet out of finals calculations and finish 12th.
The Tigers of 2006 are the only other NRL premiers not to qualify for the playoffs the following year because of poor form, when they finished the season in 11th.
The Melbourne outfit of 2010, finished with one more win, 14, than the Rabbitohs have in 2015, but they were banned from the finals series due to massive salary cap breaches.
It would be four losses in a row if Souths have their season ended against the Sharks at Allianz Stadium.
Thing started poorly for Souths off the field when title winning skipper John Sutton was sacked from the captaincy following his and Luke Burgess’s drunken arrest in Arizona in November 2014.
But coach Michael Maguire’s side bounced back from the ensuing furore and rash of negative headlines to claim the Auckland Nines title and the World Club Challenge.
Their first round thrashing of Brisbane promised big things.
However on the back of injuries and ill-discipline the Rabbitohs have spluttered their way through much of the year.
They have conceded 109 points in their last three games and the arguably avoidable suspensions of Issac Luke and George Burgess, who will both miss the clash with the Sharks, have not helped their cause.
However the Rabbitohs do have time to turn things around and star centre Dylan Walker is hopeful the finals can bring out the best in him and his teammates.
Greg Inglis’ return after two games out is a big boost. Sutton will miss the rest of the season with a broken leg.
“It’s just about forgetting the memories – those were the normal round games, this is the finals time now. I’m just thinking about the elimination final,” Walker said.
“It’s just do or die now. It brings a lot of pressure to all the players, that’s where I think a lot of players thrive, under pressure.”
Back-rower Chris McQueen said the Sharks are their sole focus, not what might have been or who is missing.
“There’s nothing that we can do to change those games and nothing we can do to change George being suspended. The only thing that’s important for us is focusing on what we can effect, and that’s the game this weekend,” he said.
“I think if you let it distract you, it can be a big distraction. But we’ve got to ignore that stuff and put it out of our head.”
NRL PREMIERSHIP DEFENCES
2014 – Sydney Roosters lost their preliminary final to Souths.
2013 – Melbourne were bundled out of the finals in straight sets in losses to Souths in their qualifying final and then Newcastle in the semi-final
2012 – Manly lost their preliminary final to Melbourne
2011 – The Dragons followed their qualifying final loss to the Tigers with a extra-time loss to Brisbane in the semi-final
2010 – Melbourne’s massive salary cap breaches meant they were stripped of the 2009 title and unable to accumulate premiership points. They concluded their season with a 34-4 thumping of Newcastle in round 26
2009 – Fifth placed Manly’s loss to Melbourne in their qualifying final under the old finals format meant their season was over, after they beat Gold Coast 38-4 in the final round.
2008 – With Cameron Smith suspended, Melbourne were thrashed 40-0 in the grand final by Manly
2007 – Eighth placed Brisbane’s 40-0 loss to Melbourne in their qualifying final ended their season after a 68-22 loss to Parramatta in the final round and a 30-19 win over Canberra in the penultimate round.
2006 – Wests Tigers failed to qualify for the finals with an 11th place finish. They beat Souths 52-18 in the final round of the season
2005 – Canterbury didn’t make the finals after finishing 12th on the back of six successive losses to end the season
2004 – Penrith lost their preliminary final to Canterbury
2003 – The Roosters lost the grand final to Penrith
2002 – Newcastle lost their semi-final to the Roosters
2001 – Brisbane lost their preliminary final to Parramatta
2000 – Sixth placed Melbourne lost their qualifying final to Newcastle. Storm beat the Tigers in the final round
1999 – Eighth placed Brisbane lost their qualifying final to Cronulla, after they beat Canterbury in the final round.