NRL – Rabbit in the Vineyard: Round 1 Preview





South Sydney DRLFC v Manly-Warringah, Sunday 3 March, Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas.


The 2024 NRL season kicks off in ‘Sin City’ on Sunday, with Souths playing one of their traditional rivals, Manly, in the first game of a double-header at the 2024 Superbowl venue.

There has been much debate around the merits of taking rugby league to the US. However this Bunnies fan is only hoping for a vastly improved showing to start the new season, after Souths’ spectacular fadeout during the second half of the 2023 season, inexplicably winning only four of thirteen games, after leading the competition after Round 11.

Souths missed the finals for the first time since 2017, amidst speculation of preferential treatment of two ‘star’ players, 2014 premiership hero and assistant coach Sam Burgess leaving the building early, then the club extending Jason Demetriou’s contract.

Cooper Cronk, who played 372 more first grade NRL games than I did, recently stated: “Souths in 2023 showed what can happen when everyone is not on the same page both on and off the field.”

Let’s rule a line under 2023, when Cameron Murray was the inaugural winner of the Rabbit in the Vineyard Player of the Year Award, and the ‘Angaston’ was a narrow winner in the NRL pie of the season review.

What will we see on Sunday?

Sadly, no Blake Taaffe in the cardinal and myrtle, which I explained in my Charity Shield report last week.

In no (particular) order, this ‘six again’:

  1. Will we see cohesion in attack?
  2. Will we see commitment and attitude in defence?
  3. Will we see consistent involvement, as well as calm temperament, from Cody and Latrell?
  4. Will we see an improved kicking game, both long and short, leading to repeat sets in attack?
  5. In defence, will Souths attack the high ball?
  6. Overall, will we see a cohesive team, like the trophy winning NSW Cup team were, as they won two trophies to complete a wonderful season?

A number of those NSW state cup premiership and NRL state cup winners, including Shaquai Mitchell, Dean Hawkins and Peter Mamezoulis will be pushing for NRL selection throughout the season.

Souths are a team bursting with representative players.

From where I sit, the captain, Cameron Murray, as well as the Queensland origin forward Jai Arrow, play like rep players each week.

For Souths to finish higher than ninth in 2024, and therefore improve on the debacle that was the 2023 season, the calendar boys need to produce more, more often.

Latrell needs to play as many games pre-season for Souths, as he did for the Sombrero.

In four seasons for the evil empire, Latrell missed six games out of a total of 102 matches.

In four seasons for Souths, he has missed 37 of 101 matches.

Who are the calendar boys?

Latrell, Cody, Cook, Murray.

All Origin players, all bar Cody have played for Australia.

Yes, we have drawn a line under 2023, however, given injuries and suspension … YES, suspension before the season proper has even commenced: star recruit, another Origin and Test player, Jack Wighton, is unavailable until Round 3, Manly coach Anthony Siebold, who was at Souths in 2018, was Dally M coach of the year, before thinking the grass was greener in Brisbane (didn’t that go well?) … Siebs will be smelling ‘ambush.’

By mid-Sunday afternoon, we will know.



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About Russel Hansen

Russel Hansen Has worked in schools for over thirty years – as a teacher, coach, coach educator, sports coordinator and in pastoral care roles. Whilst at Brisbane Boys’ College as Director of Athletics, he led teams to six GPS premierships in track and field, and cross country. He has coached at all levels from school to international, most recently coaching a lad (100m personal best 10.34secs) to the Australian U/20 4x100m relay squad for the 2022 world U/20 championships. He is married to Heidi, a Primary school principal, and is father to two adult daughters. Twitter: @Russel_Hansen


  1. Yes, RITV, ‘the calendar boys’ + Wighton need to step up every week just like Arrow and Murray. Only then can we get a fair reading on Ilias who has copped a disproportionate amount of flak for the ‘23 fade-out. Letting Taafe go was also a mistake. Every team needs a utility of his calibre. Give Murray a pat!

  2. Russel Hansen says

    Yes Ian, Ilias cops a disproportionate amount of flack in general, however, Hawkins did go from strength-to-strength last season, so perhaps the pressure of Hawkins snapping at his heels will be a good thing.

    Cook-Walker-Latrell need to lead – every week. Cook will make 50 tackles a week, he needs to be smarter! Souths need him in attack, and to be better 10m out from the try line.

    Taaffe: yes, the Bulldogs have a good player there! Not a big name from Penrith, but a dependable, 100% effort every week TEAM MAN.

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