With preparations well under way ahead of the new NRL season, the question on everybody’s lips during the offseason has been whether the South Sydney Rabbitohs have what it takes to win back-to-back Premiership titles.
After working their way back into the NRL just over 10 years ago, the Rabbitohs completed a fairytale story in October when the club clinched their 21st Premiership.
However, a lot has changed since the end of the season.
There are plenty of people who feel this will be a very different Souths side to the one that ended the last as champions.
Not since the Brisbane Broncos won consecutive titles in 1992-93 has an NRL team managed to defend the Premiership crown.
But that hasn’t stopped the majority of bookmakers placing the Souths as the betting favourites to be the team to beat again this year.
However, while there is no doubt the Rabbitohs will start the season with a very strong squad, the same can be said for the likes of the Roosters, the Broncos and the Bulldogs.
The Souths will have their work cut out to retain their place as champions in the face of some really stiff competition.
It has certainly been a busy offseason for the club in following up the signings of Manly’s Glenn Stewart and Penrith prop Tim Grant with the acquisitions of Sione Masima from Cronulla, Catalan’s Daryl Millard and Melbourne Storm playmaker Cody Walker.
While the five signings have strengthened an already star-studded squad, it hasn’t hidden the fact that the Souths will be starting the new season without a couple of players who were crucial to last season’s memorable Premiership victory.
As well as losing Ben Te’o to rugby union, the Souths have seen veteran duo Lote Tuqiri and Nathan Merritt hang up their boots.
That is also not to mention the fact the club are currently planning for the season without the services of Grand Final centre Kirisome Auva’a due to his suspension following a conviction for assaulting his girlfriend.
While those losses have been a blow, they haven’t really come close to matching the period of mourning that followed the crossing of codes of Sam Burgess.
The Englishman ended his four-year stay at the club in fitting fashion by leading the team to the Premiership crown and earning the Clive Churchill Medal in the process.
With his focus on earning a place in England’s World Cup squad this year, Burgess returned to the northern hemisphere to sign for Bath in order to try his hand at rugby union.
Losing Burgess would hurt any team and the Souths will be no different.
Despite talk which claims the club would be a much weaker beast this season without the powerful Englishman in their ranks, head coach Michael Maguire has maintained he is confident his squad are going to prove that there is life after Burgess.
While their former team-mate continues his journey towards the 2015 World Cup, the Souths now have to look forward and silence some of their critics by defending their title without their talisman.