Under-fire South Sydney will have to defy the odds if they're to avoid an unwanted NRL-era first. The Rabbitohs have been engulfed in turmoil at the back end of their season, with last week's shock departure of assistant coach Sam Burgess and form of Latrell Mitchell among the chief concerns for Jason Demetriou's side with one game of the regular season remaining.
The besieged Bunnies enter Friday night's final-round clash against fierce rivals, the Sydney Roosters, fighting to keep their season alive. A win for either side will likely spell the end of the finals hopes for the other team, depending on how other results fall.
If the Rabbitohs do lose and miss out on making the finals, however, it would mark the greatest capitulation of the NRL era, in what would be another brutal blow in a tumultuous period for the club. Not since 1992 - and prior to the league adopting a top-eight finals system - has a team gone from top of the ladder in round 11 or later to miss out on the finals.
However, that is the very real possibility facing the Bunnies if they are unable to snap out of their late-season funk and beat the Roosters to secure a spot in the top-eight. The Rabbitohs were top of ladder after round 11 but injuries to key players - including Mitchell and centre Campbell Graham - coupled with a drastic dip in their defensive numbers, sees the Rabbitohs lurching towards unwanted history.
The alarming slide in the defence of Souths is illustrated by the fact they conceded 13.64 points per game on average through the first 11 rounds, compared to a staggering 27.41 points in the 12 matches since. Even more grim for the Rabbitohs is their record this season without Mitchell - who is banned for the crunch clash against the Roosters after his elbow on Tyson Frizell in round 25.
Latrell Mitchell-less Rabbitohs up against it
Despite the superstar fullback's form being called into question over the last month, the fact is the Bunnies have only won two out of six matches without him in 2023. When Mitchell has featured for the Rabbitohs this season, the team's win-loss record is a much more respectable 10-6 - highlighting the massive task facing Demetriou's side without their inspirational fullback on Friday night.
The turmoil at the Rabbitohs and the questions around Mitchell's form took an explosive turn on the weekend when Rodney Churchill - son of NRL Immortal and Souths legend Clive Churchill - labelled the fullback "lazy", "a cancer on the club" and an "embarrassment to the No.1 jersey". Souths players have reportedly responded to staging a boycott against the Clive Churchill medal if anyone wins it in the foreseeable future.
That followed widespread reports Burgess left the Rabbitohs after an apparent disagreement with Demetriou over the preferential treatment given to Mitchell and Cody Walker compared to Souths teammates. Bunnies bosses denied this was the case and that Burgess left to focus on the impending birth of his baby with partner Lucy Graham, and his job as Warrington head coach in 2024.
Adam Reynolds defends former Rabbitohs teammates
Brisbane halfback and former Rabbitohs captain Adam Reynolds was the latest to defend his former teammates on Monday, claiming there were never any issues with Mitchell or Walker during his time at the club. Reynolds admitted he was not privy to how Demetriou has acted towards the star pair but said he had not seen preferential treatment from previous coaches at Redfern.
"I don't know the dynamics of what is going on behind the scenes but (Latrell) was always fantastic to work with when I was there, as well as all the other boys," Reynolds said. "They were a good group of boys. They were tight knit.
"I'm not sure what has gone on the last two years. I've got things to worry about up here now. My focus cant be down there."
Reynolds did offer some advice to Mitchell in terms of ignoring the criticism from people such as Rodney Churchill, warning the fullback not to get caught up in the ugly situation. "It is important for Latrell to stick to himself and solid to what he believes in," Reynolds said. "It is an opinion. Not everyone thinks the same way. Everyone has the right to an opinion."
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.