Axed Ilias no scapegoat: Souths defend dropped halfback

Jasper Bruce |

Lachlan Ilias (left) has struggled to get his game going for the Rabbitohs this season.
Lachlan Ilias (left) has struggled to get his game going for the Rabbitohs this season.

Lachlan Ilias has not been made a scapegoat for South Sydney’s poor start to the NRL season, Cameron Murray insists, after coach Jason Demetriou dropped the halfback for round three.

Dean Hawkins will start against Souths’ bitter rivals the Sydney Roosters on Friday in place of Ilias, who is expected to drop to NSW Cup.

Ilias has appeared rusty on a winless start to Souths’ season, having also struggled to marshal the Rabbitohs as they faded from finals contention last year.

He had a particularly tough night in Thursday’s 28-18 loss to Brisbane, kicking the ball into teammate Tallis Duncan on one occasion and losing a scrum feed – a rarity in the modern game.

Rabbitohs players confirmed on Monday that Ilias, first-choice halfback since Adam Reynolds left the club at the end of 2021, had been dropped.

But captain Murray insisted the 23-year-old was not being made to shoulder the blame for the Rabbitohs’ early season drought.

“The responsibility for our results haven’t fallen on his shoulders at all. It shouldn’t be put that way because it’s not his fault,” Murray said.

“The unfortunate part of this game is you can only pick 17 players and it’s proof that nobody’s really safe; if you’re not playing your best footy, you’re not going to be in that side. 

“I’m not saying that Lachie’s not playing his best footy, I’m saying that Deano has earned that opportunity.”

The reigning NSW Cup player of the year, Hawkins has featured in six first-grade games since 2021 – starting on four occasions.

He trained at halfback during the Rabbitohs’ session in Maroubra on Monday, while Ilias lined up against the first-grade squad.

South Sydney's Dean Hawkins (left).
Dean Hawkins trained at halfback for Souths on Monday and will line up against the Roosters. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

“Deano’s put his best foot forward and he had a cracking year last year in reserve grade,” new recruit Jack Wighton said.

“Lachie’s going to bounce back. He’s a true professional, he’s an unbelievable player in my eyes.”

Wighton will return from suspension to make his club debut on Friday and said he was not in the mix for time in the halves, despite his experience as a five-eighth with Canberra.

“I’m here to do whatever the team needs me to do. At the moment it’s play left centre,” he said.

Ilias’s axing continues a turbulent 12 months for the Rabbitohs.

Souths lost seven of their last 10 games in 2023, falling from finals contention amid suggestions Demetriou had been giving preferential treament to star players Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell.

Demetriou and the club denied the accusations, even as Rabbitohs great and assistant coach Sam Burgess left the club after voicing concerns.

Json Demetriou.
Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou has come under fire from some quarters. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

Ex-Rabbitoh Josh Mansour added fuel to the fire on Sunday, telling The Bye Round Podcast he and Demetriou did not see “eye-to-eye” in 2022, the winger’s last season at the club.

Murray said Demetriou was keeping calm following the back to back losses.

“We came in this morning, he had a smile on his face and was really energetic and positive,” said Murray, who plays his 150th NRL game on Friday.

“Within our four walls, there’s no heat and there’s no pressure on us.”