South Sydney downplay Meninga links as Cook left angry

Scott Bailey and George Clarke |

Damien Cook (third left) is determined to earn back his spot in the South Sydney team.
Damien Cook (third left) is determined to earn back his spot in the South Sydney team.

South Sydney chief executive Blake Solly insists the Rabbitohs haven’t begun planning for life after Jason Demetriou, despite Australian Test coach Mal Meninga being linked with taking charge of the embattled club. 

After experienced NSW State of Origin hooker Damien Cook voiced his frustration that he had been dropped for Saturday’s clash with Cronulla, reports emerged on Wednesday that Meninga headed a short list of alternatives to Demetriou.

The Kangaroos coach would hold sway with a squad that has appeared at odds with each other over recent months and fell to a 1-4 start last Saturday to ramp up the pressure on Demetriou.

Mal Meninga
South Sydney have denied Mal Meninga heads a short list to take over as coach of the Rabbitohs. (Rob Prezioso/AAP PHOTOS)

Meninga was unavailable for comment, but Solly was adamant the club remained committed to Demetriou, who signed a three-year contract extension last October. 

“The idea of a short list is complete rubbish,” Solly told AAP. 

“Our only focus is throwing the kitchen sink at a win on Saturday against the Sharks.”

Rabbitohs director Nick Hatzistergos was also adamant on Wednesday night that the board had not asked for a short list, and said on social media none had been provided.

Regardless, increased conjecture over Demetriou’s replacement only adds to the speculation that Saturday’s meeting with the Sharks could be his last game in charge.

There has been talk that Rabbitohs assistant coach Ben Hornby could also step up to the role on an interim basis, while Wayne Bennett remains unsigned beyond this season.

A bye either side of games with Cronulla and Melbourne would give the Rabbitohs time to settle on alternatives should they opt to part ways with Demetriou, who has made one of the boldest calls of his tenure by dropping Cook. 

The hooker admitted feeling angry and frustrated after being dropped for the most important match of the Rabbitohs’ season. 

A Blues No. 9 last year, Cook said on Wednesday he did not feel as if he had become a scapegoat for Souths’ woeful start to the NRL season.

And while his emotions weren’t directed at Demetriou, he was disappointed to be dropped for the first time since becoming Souths’ first-choice hooker in late 2016.

Damien Cook
Damien Cook was shocked to be dropped. (James Gourley/AAP PHOTOS)

“Of course I’m angry,” Cook said on the Big Sports Breakfast on Wednesday. 

“(I’m) frustrated, angry and sad. I had all the emotions yesterday, because I do want to be out there on the field giving my best for the team to get us out of where we are.

“No doubt yesterday shocked me. It was quite a tough day. 

“But I can’t sit there and mope around. I trained really well yesterday and gave the team some good opposition to train against.”

The 32-year-old was adamant his absence would be brief, and that he could fight back into the NRL side quickly after Peter Mamouzelos’s selection at No.9.

“It’s been tough. Obviously changes needed to be made and he (Demetriou) needs me to be better,” Cook said.

“The leaders of the team need to lead the way, and we mustn’t be doing a good enough job with that.

“I know I have more to give. I felt like I was building into this season, and I am confident I will be back.”