‘The old fella can look elsewhere’: Souths coach Jason Demetriou opens up on Wayne Bennett, delivers cheeky Dolphins sledge

New South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou can still feel the giant shadow of supercoach Wayne Bennett even from 1000kms away.

Fortuitously for Demetriou, the rookie NRL coach who grew up in Sydney remains great mates with the seven-time premiership-winner who has coached a record 886 NRL matches.

Which is why when Bennett offered experienced South Sydney forward Mark Nicholls a two-year contract to join the Redcliffe Dolphins from 2023, the new Rabbitohs coach was more than happy to give it his blessing.

“The no poaching policy, it didn’t last too long,” Demetriou laughs.

“With any coach in Wayne’s position now it’s only natural you’re going to want players you know you can trust.

“At the stage of his career Mark is at we were rapped he gets an opportunity to really set himself and his family up.

“Luckily we’ve got the majority of the rest of our squad at South Sydney on long term deals.

“So he can go and look somewhere else now the old fella.”

One of the biggest questions of the new NRL season will be whether Demetriou can buck the trend of coaches who try to follow in the size 13 footsteps of Bennett.

Whether it’s been the Brisbane Broncos, St George Illawarra, Newcastle, or the Broncos a second time around, the assignment has proven an NRL career killer for the last four men who tried to navigate the road.

The difference for the new Rabbitohs head coach is aside from serving a five-year apprenticeship under one of rugby’s leagues greatest coaches he’s enjoyed success standing alone in the lower grades of Queensland Cup and NSW Cup.

Demetriou won a premiership with the Northern Pride in Queensland Cup in 2014 along with the NRL State Championship in the same year.

He was then a part of the North Queensland Cowboys smashing a 20-year premiership drought in 2015 as an assistant coach before more success at the Illawarra Cutters in the NSW Cup in 2016 with another title.

So in terms of cutting his teeth, he’s served a long and strong apprenticeship.

Talking to the new South Sydney coach, you get the impression he’s got the right laidback temperament combined with a hard work ethic to make it in the rough and tumble furnace of life as an NRL head coach.

Similar to Bennett, it’s also evident he’s a players’ coach who invests time, confidence and more than just rugby league into his roster.

“It’s been five years since I first started under Wayne but it feels it’s only been two years,” Demetriou told Fox Sports.

”I feel grateful and privileged to have been given the opportunity and I don’t think I could have had a better preparation in terms of my apprenticeship.

“I still message Wayne a bit. He gets back to me every two or three days when he can get reception on the farm.”

The first major decision for the new South Sydney coach was who becomes the foundation club’s new captain following the departure of Adam Reynolds.

Despite having experienced key position players in Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker and Damien Cook, selecting lock Cameron Murray was an easy decision.

“Cameron epitomes what this club is all about. He’s been here since day dot in terms of his own playing career and he respects and appreciates the history of the club,” Demetriou said.

“The other thing is he’s young enough to lead the club for the next decade and he’s not a ball player which means he doesn’t have to be concerned with all the other pressures which come with running a football team.”

The Rabbitohs will start the season with rookie halfback Lachlan Ilias wearing the no.7 jumper while Jackson Paulo and Taane Milne are competing for the left centre position vacated by Dane Gagai.

As always, the South Sydney juniors mean the next generation of red and green talent are continuing to roll into the NRL ranks.

Local juniors Blake Taaffe, Peter Mamouzelos and Davvy Moale are all expected to get more game time in the NRL this season.

Other promising rookies Terrell Kalo Kalo and Josiah Karapani are also highly regarded and expected to press claims to make their NRL debuts.

One thing for certain - there’s no easy games for South Sydney once the new season kicks off on March 10.

In the opening month they’ll play Brisbane (round one), Melbourne (round two), arch-rivals the Roosters (round three) and then the grand final rematch against premiers Penrith (round four).

If he’s worried, Demteriou isn’t letting on.

You’d hate to being player poker against him.

It’s only early days but the early signs are the new Souths coach has got the nerve for the cut-throat world of NRL coaching.

Source: foxsports.com.au