South Sydney officials point to Wayne Bennett’s description of Jason Demetriou as his “co-coach” at Sunday night’s grand final press conference as confirmation that the Rabbitohs are in good hands next season and beyond.
Contrary to the widespread belief that Demetriou joined Souths from Brisbane in 2019 as part of a package deal with Bennett, he was identified independently by the Rabbitohs as the best assistant coach available at the time.
In fact, Demetriou had been on the radar at Redfern since 2016 when he was discussed internally for a role on Michael Maguire’s coaching staff the following season.
However, Bennett lured him to the Broncos, and Souths hired Anthony Seibold and David Furner to work with Maguire.
After a five-year apprenticeship under Bennett, Demetriou will officially take charge on November 1, with his biggest challenge set to be how the Rabbitohs overcome the loss of halfback and captain Adam Reynolds.
Yet the impact that suspended superstar Latrell Mitchell may have had on the grand final result has been understated, while Jai Arrow – the forward expected to pressure Nathan Cleary when he kicked – played just 17 minutes after an early head knock.
Besides the departures of Reynolds, Dane Gagai and Jaydn Su’a, Demetriou will have a largely unchanged squad of players he is familiar with and anyone who has watched the team train would not be surprised by Bennett’s comments about his successor.
“He’s been a wonderful servant to the game and to me personally he’s been a wonderful co-coach,” Bennett told the press conference after Sunday’s 14-12 grand final loss to Penrith at Suncorp Stadium.
“Ben Hornby’s staying with him, and Jason’s an extremely competent coach, so I don’t think there will be too many ripples at all.”
Bennett is considering remaining involved with Souths in a consultancy role but his preference is a coaching job with the second Brisbane team expected to join the NRL in 2023.
However, Rabbitohs COO Brock Schaefer believes the seven-times premiership mentor is likely to provide a sounding board for Demetriou regardless of what he does next year.
“They have a really close personal relationship and no matter what happens next year Wayne and JD will be speaking every week, whether it is in a professional sense or as friends,” he said.
Schaefer was the Northern Pride CEO when Demetriou coached the Cairns-based Queensland Cup club in 2013 and 2014 – winning back-to-back minor premierships and the grand final in his second season.
The Easts Tigers team beaten 36-4 by Demetriou’s Pride outfit included the likes of Cameron Munster, Cody Walker, Felise Kaufusi, Kenny Bromwich and Hymel Hunt.
Demetriou was an assistant to Paul Green in North Queensland’s 2015 premiership triumph over Bennett’s Broncos and took the Illawarra Cutters to victory in the NSW Cup grand final the following season.
“I think a common denominator with most successful head coaches is that they have had experience coaching their own open-aged men’s teams,” Schaefer said.
“JD has been a head coach of men successfully, frequently, and I think when he coached the Pride the Queensland Cup was never at a higher standard.
“He did an incredibly good job in that comp and then went on to do it in the NSW Cup. They were things that the club evaluated when they made the decision to bring Jason here.”