You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content
Rabbitohs rapidly changing on the back of success

South Sydney begins its premiership defence in The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup this weekend with quite a few personnel changes starting with a rising Rabbitohs star in Jye Gray.

Gray (pictured above) will begin the 2024 season as fullback for Blake Taaffe, who has moved onto the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, when the Rabbitohs face the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles in Round One tomorrow (Saturday 9 March) at 4 Pines Park.

But other manoeuvres have been made at Redfern in the off-season.

Firstly, NSW Cup head coach Joe O’Callaghan has added an extra string in his bow in 2024 by being named NRL assistant coach.

“It’s a juggle in the sense I’m not there at night-time training all the time any more. It’s been a bit of a balancing-act and learning experience for everyone,” he told

“I’m more hands-on now with the NRL squad during the day, especially those boys on the cusp of playing in the NRL. And that will have its benefits for me with my NSW Cup hat on.”

Secondly, there is the restructuring O’Callaghan has had to do with the squad.

“It’s been a pre-season of change for me with the added NRL role and also the fact our success in 2023 means players got noticed,” he said.

“That’s what I think the point of NSW Cup is, to create opportunities for guys to move onto a higher level.”

From the 2023 Grand Final-winning squad Taaffe is now with the Bulldogs; winger Tom Carr has retired; Jacob Gagai debuted in the NRL in Round One in Las Vegas this year; five-eighth Dion Teaupa has a calf injury ruling him out of first two weeks at least; second rower Benjamin Lovett has a long-term knee injury he picked up in the 2023 decider against North Sydney; back rower Ethan O’Neill has gone to the Brisbane Broncos; Jaxson Rahme to the Newcastle Knights; and Daniel Suluka-Fifita to the Bulldogs.

“In one breath we are defending champions and in another we’re a very different team to what we were last year,” O’Callaghan said.

“That at the same time creates excitement both for those young ones coming through and some of the journeymen like Braidon Burns and Ryan Gray, who might have come from other NSW Cup clubs looking for more field time.”

Burns (centre) and Gray (bench utility) are both in the Round One side, which will captained once more by NSWRL’s 2023 NSW Cup Player of the Year, Dean Hawkins. Hawkins was fourth-highest points scorer last season, second for kick metres, and topped the competition in line engagements.

A lot of eyes will be on No.1 Gray though.

“Jye is one of the emerging players to look out for. He played in the Charity Shield and is in the NRL squad,” O’Callaghan said.

“He’s still eligible for Jersey Flegg but based on how well his pre-season has gone I’d say he’d get a lot of exposure in the NSW Cup early on. He’ll get an opportunity in Taaffe’s spot.

“Our young backrower from Jersey Flegg, Thomas Fletcher, is another who had an injury-disrupted year in 2023, but has had a really good pre-season and is in our NRL full-time program. He’s more than ready to play NSW Cup.”

The Rabbitohs have their two byes within the first seven rounds.

“What that means is we’re going to have to play a lot of footy after that. We can’t control the draw so we’ll just play with the cards we’re dealt,” O’Callaghan said.

Coach Joe O'Callaghan celebrates the 2023 NRL State Championship win Rabbitohs players: NRL Photos
Coach Joe O'Callaghan celebrates the 2023 NRL State Championship win Rabbitohs players: NRL Photos

South Sydney beat North Sydney to win the 2023 NSW Cup despite having the sixth-best defence and fifth-best attack. Then they went on to beat Brisbane Tigers 42-22 in the State Championship.

“Our last few rounds put us up in the top two or three, but the start to our season in 2023 was the reason why we ended up with those numbers.”

South Sydney lost their first three straight, had just five wins in their first 13 games, but won seven of their last eight to make the finals.

“We’ve learnt a bit from last year and definitely don’t want to start as slow as we did.

“We were second-last at the halfway point in the comp. The flip side of that shows that we never gave up, had some real belief and pulled ourselves back from the brink.

“So don’t get too stressed if you’re not getting the results … she’s a long season and there’s so many factors coming at you like NRL squad injuries, Origins.

“We used 48 players last year from start to finish.”

Acknowledgement of Country

New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

Platinum Partner

Major Partners

View All Partners