Following in the footsteps of arguably the greatest coach to ever do it is daunting at best, let a lone someone as charismatic as Bennett, who has leaves an indelible mark on his players as much off the field as on it.
Bennett grew close with his Souths players over his tenure at Redfern from 2019 to 2021 just as he has at the Raiders, Broncos, Dragons and Knights over a career spanning a record 976 games and counting.
However by his side for his second stint with the Broncos and the last three years at Souths, Demetriou has been patiently watching and learning from the best in the business and that has his players convinced he will hit the ground running.
New Rabbitohs’ skipper Cameron Murray like many of his teammates still holds a massive soft spot for Bennett after he led them to the verge of grand final glory after three seasons at the helm.
“I am going to miss a lot about Wayne,” Murray told Foxsports.com.au.
“He cares so much about his players both on and off the field. He is about making you a better man as well as a better player.
“I owe a lot of my development over the last three years to him as does the team.
“But in saying that I’m just as excited for JD to step up into the head coaching role.
“He is very passionate and knowledgeable when it comes to rugby leagu
“Since he came here I knew he was head coach material. I know he is really excited for the role and I know our leaders are excited to back him and his philosophies of what he is going to bring to the club and the organisation.
“We are more just focused on the process and taking it one day at a time and trying to be at our best every day.
“JD is going to be great for us and I’m looking forward to the season kicking off.”
Murray’s sentiments on both Bennett and Demetriou are shared by his teammates though with slightly different reasoning at times.
Outgoing prop Mark Nicholls who will join Bennett at the Dolphins in 2023 believes Bennett’s experience will be hard to replace given there is no situation in rugby league he hasn’t faced in his 36-year career as a head coach in Australian and international rugby league.
“Wayne has been there and done it all,” Nicholls said.
“I think that is probably his biggest strength that no matter what the club or the team faces, Wayne is that calming influence because he has been there and done it all.
“That is his greatest strength and also the way that he gets the best out of his players and his care for the players.
“But JD has been under Wayne for five years so he has taken a lot of Wayne’s good traits.
“But he has also combined that with his strengths as well so I’m sure Souths will be fine under JD for a long time to come.”
A player who has come to know Bennett very well at both International and club level is prop Tom Burgess, who has been coached by him for England, Great Britain and Souths.
Burgess lamented the loss of Bennett the wordsmith and motivator, who had an uncanny way of putting things into perfect perspective.
“One thing we will miss about Wayne is his stories,” Burgess said.
“His wisdom. The way he can sort of tie it all up in a bow and present it and that sort of thing. That is what he is great at.
“JD, this is his first year as a head coach so he is probably still learning. But from an early start he is doing really well.
“He has got the boys’ trust and everyone loves him. I’m really excited to see where he can go with it.
“But not much has changed with him. He is the same bloke. Same guy around the place.
“But he is putting his own little mark on the team.
“It is probably less of a change than if we got a new head coach that hadn’t been here.
“JD was here last year and he was a big part of the team alongside Wayne.
“They knew what was happening so it was planned that he would take over.”
Bennett’s bullish approach with the media often hid from or distracted the masses from what makes him such an excellent rugby league coach, especially in the modern era.
With so much of the game and the players put under the microscope it is Bennett’s ability to deflect the hysteria onto himself and protect his players that sets him apart.
One of the players to take his game to higher levels under Bennett, Souths forward Liam Knight, commended the super coach’s ability to remain calm and always say the right thing even when chaos raged all around him and his team.
“Wayne was the glue that held us all together,” Knight said.
“Everyone stood by and took in everything he said.
“Everything he said resonated with everyone and he could just get you up when you needed it.
“He will be missed a great deal because he is just that calm head.
“In saying that Jason is a very smart coach and everyone has a lot of respect for him.
“He has proven himself over the last three years and I’m looking forward to working with him this year with him in the top job.
“Not much has changed to be honest which is probably a good thing.
“Jason has picked up where Wayne left off.”
Souths enforcer Keaon Koloamatangi blossomed into a Blues Origin squad member under Bennett and he too will miss the way he made you feel bulletproof every time he read out the team sheet.
“We will miss Wayne’s presence,” Koloamatangi said.
“Everyone knows he is the best coach of all time. He just gives you that confidence when he puts you in that team each week.
“But JD has been under him for a while with the Broncos and Souths, so he knows what he is like and JD was a big voice for us last year.
“We all respect him equally and are excited to be coached by him.”
Other players like 22-year-old rookie Blake Taaffe had less time to work with Bennett than others, after he debuted in 2021 playing just eight games in their charge to the grand final.
Taaffe too speaks highly of Bennett’s impact on his own fledging career, but it isn’t his coaching that he will miss the most.
“We will miss his jokes,” Taaffe said with a laugh.
“He makes a lot of jokes. Wayne is a great bloke. I got a lot closer to him towards the end of the year and I have got a lot of respect for him and what he did for myself and the team.
“But we have a great coach coming through in JD and his knowledge of football is second to none.
“He has been under Wayne for a fair few years, so he has a bit of Wayne about him. We are in good hands.”
No sooner had each player finished talking about the respect they hold for Bennett even after just three years under him, that they immediately and organically turned their attention to his successor.
Granted it might help to praise the bloke that picks the team each week going forward, but there is a natural admiration and warmth in their voices that shows Demetriou carries a similar level of respect to Bennett from his players.
The Bennett era left a lasting legacy on the South Sydney club, but by his side the whole way through was Demetriou quietly learning his trade. And the Demetriou era at Souths is just beginning.