Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou has declared the club is in a “much better position” than this time last year as several World Cup stars are returning to pre-season training early.
South Sydney were last summer dealing with the ugly exit of premiership-winning halfback Adam Reynolds.
The injury-forced retirements of Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess saw the club refuse to offer Reynolds anything beyond a 12-month extension.
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Reynolds joined the Broncos but Souths managed without him as rookie playmaker Lachlan Ilias helped steer the club to a fifth straight preliminary final.
Demetriou believes his side is now better placed to go one step further and make the grand final next year.
The Rabbitohs have only lost Mark Nicholls (Dolphins), Kodi Nikorima (Dolphins) and Jaxson Paulo (Roosters) from their 2022 squad.
Free agents Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker and Damien Cook are all expected to re-sign before Christmas.
“We’ve got a really settled squad. We’re in a much better position than we were this time last year, no major surgeries,” Demetriou told foxsports.com.au.
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“You park last season but you still review it and make sure that when we come back in January (with the full squad) that we know the little margins that we need to improve and are clear on the direction we’re going.
“The players took a lot of confidence out of the back end of the year last year. I think we won 10 of our last 13 against top-six sides so that puts us in a good place.
“But it’s a different year, we need to get the pre-season right and worry about the start of the season.”
Cook, 31, wants to finish his career at the club and is expected to sign a two-year extension through to 2025 in the coming weeks.
“We’ve got a really good squad here at the moment, no big changes from last year and a couple of young boys coming up the pathways,” Cook said.
“We’re in a really good position where a lot of teams have changed some key positions and we’re better for the run from last season.”
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Junior Tatola and Siliva Havili returned to pre-season early on Friday, joining the squad for a tough fitness session.
Kangaroos stars Mitchell and Cameron Murray aren’t due back at training until January 5 – but the former watched from the sideline on Friday.
“This is the first week back for the main squad, it’s just the World Cup boys not due back until January but a few have come in early and get some extra running done which is good,” Demetriou said on Friday.
“January 5 they’re all back but they’ll come in sporadically and make sure they’re ticking over.
“It’s important every bloke comes back January 5 ready to hit the ground running and aren’t chasing their tail with a short pre-season.”
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