Rabbitohs embrace weight of expectation
Weight of expectation will sit heavily on the shoulders of every South Sydney player in 2013, but coach Michael Maguire wouldn't have it any other way.
Never have the hopes of supporters of rugby league's most successful club been so high since their last premiership way back in 1971.
The Rabbitohs' run to within one game of the grand final last year pushed those hopes into the stratosphere and, from within the club, a quiet optimism permeates everything said and done.
Maguire performed wonders in his first year in charge at Redfern in 2012.
And the former Wigan mentor has emerged as the man who could deliver premiership No 21 to the cardinal and myrtle, more than four decades since the great Clive Churchill achieved the feat in a year in which the number of tackles in a set was increased from four to six and field goals were reduced from two points to one.
The fact that Maguire and his players are ready and willing to embrace the rich history of the Rabbitohs might just be their biggest asset as they attempt to defy years and years of misery.
"We see that expectation as a good thing," Maguire said.
"We have our own expectations within the club and, in many ways, they match those of our fans.
"We are still evolving as a playing group and continuing to grow as a team.
"We know what we did last year won't be good enough this year."
Quietly spoken and circumspect, Maguire was something of an unknown when he took the reins last year and the team struggled initially, losing three of their first four games under him.
But Maguire persisted with the structure he wanted while placing his faith in rookie Adam Reynolds as a chief playmaker and moving Greg Inglis to fullback, and a premiership contender began to emerge.
Reynolds and Inglis will again be key in 2013, as will inconsistent No 6 John Sutton, multi-talented forward Sam Burgess, enigmatic hooker Issac Luke and recruits Ben Te'o and Beau Champion.
And Maguire had a warning for rivals in 2013.
"We are well ahead of where we were this time last year," he said.
"This time last year, we were all getting to know one another and the way we wanted to play - the systems we wanted to put in place.
"That was always going to take time. That was always going to be the biggest test. But that is all behind us now.
"One of the keys of last season was that every player was buying into what we were trying to do and that is where we are again now but further down that track."
This is where Maguire returns to the weight of expectation on him and his players.
"That expectation comes with how we perform, and that's a good place to be in," Maguire says.
"These sort of things help us lift and, in turn, that motivates us further."