Jason Demetriou oversaw South Sydney’s steep decline. His sacking can start the reversal | South Sydney Rabbitohs

While much goes into coaching at the NRL level, at the end of the day, all coaches are measured on their wins and losses. And at South Sydney it was the quick accumulation of losses and the failure to make the necessary changes to stem the bleeding that resulted in the sacking of head coach Jason Demetriou.

Anchored in 17th position following a disastrous 12 months where the team has won just five of its last 20 games, the dismissal had long been on the cards, as Demetriou struggled to communicate a clear path forward. It has been a steep decline for a team who played in the grand final just three seasons ago and were premiership favourites midway through the 2023 season. A decline that has had the coach’s decision-making and communication at its centre.

Former assistant coach and club legend Sam Burgess walked out at the end of last season, frustrated at the lack of effort and accountability from senior players who were being allowed to drop standards by a coach seemingly unwilling to confront them. That was the beginning of the end for Demetriou. Assistant coach John Morris walked too. The failure to replace Burgess or Morris until David Furner was parachuted in a few weeks ago was telling.

Around the same time, Demetriou’s unwavering commitment to the struggling half Lachlan Ilias damaged his credibility internally and externally. He claimed Ilias would be “the best halfback the club has had in a long time” – a comment that rubbed many at the Rabbitohs the wrong way. Adam Reynolds was a loyal club servant admired by the playing group and while Demetriou was probably attempting to boost up Ilias rather than deride Reynolds, it spoke to the coach’s poor communication skills and difficulties with talent identification. Then, when Ilias was dropped two rounds into this season – and less than 10 games after that comment – it further undermined Demetriou’s authority.

Few coaches could survive the poor run of results Souths have had, and none without a clear plan. Demetriou has been given plenty of time to fix this with nothing to show for it. South Sydney’s attack has not changed. A focus on completions over creativity has made them easy to defend against. Their defence has cratered and their selections seem incoherent.

South Sydney had no choice but to move on from head coach Jason Demetriou. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

It was never going to be an easy task for Demetriou when he took over at the end of 2021. Wayne Bennett’s successors have big shoes to fill. Ivan Henjak lasted two seasons after Bennett left Brisbane in 2008, the club missing finals for the first time in two decades. Steve Price made it to a third season with the Dragons but was sacked after building a 22-36 record. Rick Stone was out the door less than a season after replacing Bennett at the Knights. And Anthony Seibold’s takeover at the Broncos in 2018 was personal from the beginning and Bennett took delight in seeing him go 14-23 in less than two seasons before moving on.

Those four coaches averaged less than a two-season tenure with just two finals matches and not a single finals win. And it looms as a problem South Sydney may face again with Bennett the number one target for 2025. His time at the Dolphins comes to an end after this season but the coach has shown no interest in retirement. He has an excellent relationship with Rabbitohs chief executive, Blake Solly, reflecting that Solly is willing to step back and let Bennett do his job. He also has a fatherly bond with stars Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker with both playing their best football under his leadership.

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A rekindled Bennett-Bunnies relationship could be the perfect fit. Both have small windows in which to succeed. Bennett will be 75 when the 2025 season kicks off and has been running on short-term deals. Souths have an ageing roster with Walker now 34 and Damien Cook 32. It is win-now for Bennett and Souths.

The club is also in a good enough position to make a sharp rise back up the ladder. They are not in need of a rebuild. Despite some questionable roster-building, they still have a highly talented core group.

The signing of mercurial St Helens halfback Lewis Dodd also gives the team a much-needed playmaker. Dodd made his debut under Bennett’s assistant and heir apparent at the Dolphins, Kristian Woolf, so it seems likely Bennett has at least had insight into his ability and perhaps gave the nod that signing the No 7 would be a positive.

A line has been drawn. Souths had no choice but to move on from Demetriou. Other names that will come into consideration are Sam Burgess, Broncos assistant Lee Briers, Justin Holbrook and Furner – but only if Bennett makes the unlikely call to take his talents elsewhere.

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