It’s strange to think that hardly anybody had heard of Adam Reynolds a couple of years ago. While he may not necessarily be the strongest player in the Souths stable – at the moment – his meteoric rise has seemed to mirror the rapid resurgence of the Rabbitohs over the last half decade, turning him into a kind of unofficial figurehead for the team. On top of that, he’s the most born-and-bred Bunnies player, growing up a couple of blocks from Redfern Oval in what probably amounts to the strongest square mile of Rugby League fandom in the country. Sure, he may not be among the top tier of halfbacks in the game at the moment – Daly Cherry-Evans, Shaun Johnson and Cooper Cronk are all at another level. But there’s also a different kind of prestige in being the first halfback to usher Souths to a Grand Final victory in forty-three years, and if reports are anything to go by Reynolds has only increased in his dedication and ambition since last year, setting his sights on the Blues and the Kangaroos as his next major challenge.
At the same time, 2015 hasn’t been the best year for Reynolds. Sidelined by injury a couple of times, he hasn’t quite grown into the halfback that last year’s Grand Final seemed to promise. That’s been true of the Rabbitohs generally, with Inglis putting in a fairly underwhelming couple of games towards the end, and the departure of Sam Burgess leaving a void that hasn’t been filled yet. Still, Reynolds is the kind of player who seems to exude potential even when he’s not living up to it, handling the ball with the kind of focus and determination you often see in the game’s more diminutive players. Off the field, he’s opened up more and more, shedding some of the shyness that characterised his earlier appearances for a more vocal – if still laconic – presence in front of the camera. One of the interesting things about a sport where retirement kicks in at thirty is speculating about what kind of second career players will use to reinvent themselves after first grade footy. Against all odds, I think Reynolds could turn out to be a great commentator. Not only does he genuinely feel as if he speaks for Redfern – and the best commentators are often those who feel organically tied to a particular local football community – but his shyness means that he’s very careful and thoughtful about choosing his words, which often makes for the best kind of unintrusive and unobtrusive commentary.
On the field, that tactiturn quality has made him one of the most thoughtful halfbacks in the game, just as his rapport with five-eighth Luke Keary feels like one of the most understated. These two young guns might not have quite hit their stride yet, but they’ve got a quietness and assurance in the way they communicate on the field that brings to mind Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks as their natural sparring partners. As a young father, Reynolds is in a good position to mentor other players, and although Keary is his contemporary it already feels as if Reynolds has taken him under his wing to form what might turn out to be one of the game’s great onfield relationships. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Reynolds slated as a club captain in years to come – if he remains at Souths, which seems likely – for much the same reason that he’d make a good commentator. While different clubs have their own criteria for captain, Souths seem to be moving towards players with some kind of connection or resonance with the local community, and while Reynolds might not directly succeed Sutton and Inglis, his thoughtful and reflective presence would definitely make a worthy addition to the Rabbitohs’ leadership team at some point.
And if there’s one area that really captures Reynolds’ thoughtful attitude towards his footy, it’s his kicking game. At one point in 2014, Reynolds hadn’t failed to score in a single Souths game, while his conversion statistics outweighed those of such kicking luminaries as Michael Gordon, Luke Walsh and even Hazem el Masri. Sure, boots have improved out of sight in the last couple of years alone, but a lot of it also comes down to Reynolds’ mastery as well. In interviews, he’s described how he used to head down to Redfern Oval year after year, and night after night, to master the art of goalkicking, approaching it from every angle until he was at a first grade level. On his personal website, Cooper Cronk tells a similar story about going down night after night to his local oval as a teenager to practice kicking, and while they’re obviously playing at different levels, I feel that there’s a synergy between Cronk and Reynolds. Both are diminutive players from challenging backgrounds, both have become affiliated with one team in particular, and both have a quite soulful approach to their footy that could equally see them turning motivational literature as much as commentary in their later years. In fact, Cronk’s website already feels a bit like a motivational book in progress – more on that and Cronk in another post – while Reynolds has been quite open about the role motivational writers and speakers have played in his game.
If there is an area Reynolds can improve it’s in the way he brings games to a close. While different halves have different ways of wrapping things up under pressure, Reno and Keary are yet to find a way of consistently building upon Souths advantages to forge decisive victories. As their smashing win over the Dragons in June this year suggests, they definitely have the potential, but their presence often tends to be most emphatic in the first half, deferring to Inglis as the main playmaker in the second. At some level, that deference is a respect thing, while there’s nothing unusual about shouldering the load to G.I. at critical moments. But refining their consistency is definitely the next place for Reno and Keary to go, especially if they’re aiming for Origin, where the Blues have tended to make or break their game – usually break it – on the back of their halves. Insofar as the search for a Blues victory is also the search for the perfect halves synergy, the best way Reynolds can prepare for Origin is to work on pacing himself on the rep field so that he saves his biggest and best playmaking for those last crucial minutes.
Still, for a player like Reynolds, that weakness can easily become a strength, just because of how dedicated he is to improving and refining his game. While his time on the sidelines has been a bit of a drag this season, he’s apparently used it to study the way in which other halves pairs operate in the second half, often moving up to the observation box or consulting video footage to get every possible angle on his own practice. For such a physically punishing football code, that kind of methodical work ethic actually tends to be rarer than you’d think, with a great number of players working more on impulse, emotion and instinct than the kind of physical discipline that Reno has made his own. Of course, that’s not to deny that he has the right impulses as well, but that this really feels like a guy who studies his footy as much as he immerses himself in it, and in that sense typifies the combination of dedication and passion that is South Sydney football. For my money, watching him continue to restore the Rabbitohs to glory is set to be one of the most entertaining footy experiences over the next few years.