Bunnies board, players, officials and sacked coach all deserve share of blame game after Demetriou’s demise


Jason Demetriou is no longer South Sydney coach but while he made a dignified exit there are plenty of other people at the club who can’t hold their head up high after one of the ham-fisted treatment dished out. 

After the board met for more than three hours on Tuesday morning and then reconvened in the evening so chairman Nick Pappas could zoom in from the UK, the club finally made a call on Demetriou.

This was after weeks of leaks, denials, back-stabbing and face-saving from the officials who have undermined the coach and any chance he had of turning the team around following their dreadful start to the season. 

It’s not quite a Greek tragedy, the treatment of Pappas’ board for Demetriou is more like a comedy of errors.

Not that Demetriou is blameless for the mess that Souths are in – he has presided over a team that tumbled from the top of the ladder midway through last season that missed the finals and is firmly rooted to the bottom rung in 2024 after just one win in seven starts, an unconvincing narrow triumph on Good Friday over the Bulldogs before they had hit their stride. 

They have been beset by injuries, particularly in the second half of last season and the early stages of this one, but that is no excuse for their dramatic fall from grace.

As he made his way through the media scrum that had blood in the nostrils outside the club’s Heffron Park training base early on Tuesday afternoon, Demetriou took the high road by admitting “it’s a big club, we’re not performing, so questions have to be asked”.

Assistant coach Ben Hornby now faces the gargantuan task of getting the team in some kind of state to be competitive against premiers Penrith at Accor Stadium on Thursday night with just the captain’s run on Wednesday at the helm beforehand.

Hornby has been viewed as a future coach since early in his career at the Dragons and he will leave no stone unturned, just as he did during his playing days but he will need to be a miracle worker to get a win first up. 

Whenever a coach gets shown the door mid-season, the race to apportion blame is a speedy process. The board members have sacrificed the coach, the players should take plenty of responsibility while the executives who have overseen the past few years in particular have figurative blood on their hands as well.

Demetriou took over from Bennett after the 2021 Grand Final loss to Penrith as part of a succession plan which was put in place when they had both headed south from Brisbane three years earlier. 

Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The first problem for Demetriou was that he was inheriting a team that had already made the decision to let club legend Adam Reynolds take up a more lucrative and longer term offer from Brisbane. 

Anyone who saw the way Reynolds guided the team all the way to the decider, while higher profile teammate Latrell Mitchell was out suspended, could tell you there and then that the little Rabbitoh in the No.7 jersey was their most important player. 

Stories were leaked that he was breaking down at a rapid rate. While he has missed a few games here and there at the Broncos, he managed 20 in his first season and 23 last year as he once again was the most important player in guiding younger, fitter and more athletic teammates exactly where they need to be on the park.

Rugby league is a brutally physical sport but speed between the ears will often outweigh athletic prowess. 

The decision to put their faith in young playmaker Lachlan Ilias was misguided, if you want to be polite, or downright foolish. They were putting an L-plater in the driver’s seat for a high-octane team that needed to be steered in the right direction by an experienced hand. 

As great as Mitchell, Cody Walker and Damien Cook can be, they are at their best when they can defer the chief playmaking duties to a true on-field general, not think that they have to take over because they can’t trust the newbie.

Coincidentally, Ilias was told a day before Demetriou that he was also surplus to requirements after the now injured halfback had been dropped to NSW Cup and his manager, Braith Anasta, hit the club up for a release.

Souths did OK in Demetriou’s first season in charge to finish seventh but after surviving a chaotic playoff with the Roosters and overwhelming the Sharks, they received a dose of reality in the Preliminary Final when eventual premiers Penrith ended their season 32-12.

Midway through year two of the Demetriou tenure, the Bunnies were flying high in top spot before winning just three of their final 10 games to peter out into ninth. Injuries were a factor but they happen at every club – some of the players didn’t aim up, looking complacent like they expected wins rather than earning them, a trait which has carried into this season with Souths now 5-15 from their past 20 starts.

Demetriou’s late-season run-in with assistant coaches Sam Burgess and John Morris over his supposed preferential treatment to stars like Mitchell and Walker was a fork in the road moment.

The club backed the coach while Burgess left immediately and Morris followed him soon after. 

Demetriou was given an extension early in the off-season until the end of 2026, effectively giving him two more years on top of his existing deal.

Ben Hornby. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

But canny NRL clubs are devilish in the detail they add into contracts these days, giving them the option to punt a coach well in advance of the expiry date. 

And after South Sydney started this year slowly, word leaked out that the club would only have to pay Demetriou out for nine months as part of any termination deal. 

Brisbane slipped early termination clauses into their disastrous deal with Anthony Seibold which lessened the still hefty financial blow when he was bounced and it appears every club now has some sort of severance loophole so they don’t have to fork out full freight if they no longer offer “the full support of the board”.

Demetriou was probably lucky he did not get marched during the bye round a fortnight ago but the faceless board members recognised they couldn’t skewer him after an already depleted side copped more injuries during the game but put up a brave fight before going down to first-placed Cronulla.

But when the Bunnies returned last Friday and were savaged 54-20 by Melbourne, the writing was on the wall and it was only a matter of time before the board went thwack.

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

And of course Rabbitohs nation’s lonely eyes turn to Wayne Bennett, who is a free agent at season’s end after ushering the Dolphins into their first two years in the big league. 

He recently denied interest in a return to Redfern because “they already have a coach” for 2025 but now that is no longer the case, he will be all ears. More so than usual.

While his detractors point to the fact that the last of Bennett’s seven premierships came 14 years ago – when Hornby was captaining the Dragons – it is undeniable that he still has the coaching nous to get the best out of any team he oversees. 

He rebuilt the Broncos after the first of Anthony Griffin’s coaching forays to get them to the 2015 Grand Final before losing in extra time, he led Queensland to a boilover Origin win in 2020 after stepping in at the last minute, took the Bunnies to within a couple of points of their 22nd premiership the following year and has defied the dire expectations at the Dolphins to have them in the playoff mix in year two.

And now that Souths have pulled the pin on Demetriou, it could accelerate any decision that may be germinating further west in the Harbour City where Brad Arthur’s future at the Eels is growing bleaker. 

Parramatta skipper Clint Gutherson has now joined Mitchell Moses on the sidelines for the next month so if the losses keep racking up, their board may get an itchy trigger finger as well knowing that Bennett may not be on the market for too much longer. 

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