Demetriou ‘feeling great’ as Souths enter crucial phase

Jasper Bruce |

Souths coach Jason Demetriou saw an improved performance in the close loss to Cronulla.
Souths coach Jason Demetriou saw an improved performance in the close loss to Cronulla.

South Sydney’s ailing season enters a critical phase against bogey side Melbourne but coach Jason Demetriou insists he is “feeling great” amid the on-going pressure on his side.

It comes as the Rabbitohs coach admits he wanted State of Origin hooker Damien Cook to feel hurt as he spent a week playing reserve grade.

Demetriou’s job was seemingly on a knife edge ahead of the Rabbitohs’ last start against Cronulla, which they entered having won only four of their previous 15 games.

Damien Cook returns for the Rabbitohs after being dropped to reserve grade. (James Gourley/AAP PHOTOS)

But the Rabbitohs’ improved effort in a 34-22 loss to the high-flying Sharks gave the coach some breathing room heading into the round-seven bye.

Demetriou and his 16th-placed side are not yet in the clear though, and the ANZAC Day trip to Melbourne begins a crucial period in a campaign already spiralling.

Before their next bye in round 13, the Rabbitohs face reigning premiers Penrith, an improved St George Illawarra and North Queensland in Queensland.

Their final game in this block is against Parramatta, who have underachieved this season but are likely to have talisman Mitch Moses back from injury by round 12.

If they lose all five of those games, the Rabbitohs will have a 1-10 record and can all but kiss finals goodbye, given a 13-11 record was the cut-off for last year’s top eight.

“It’s huge,” Demetriou said of his side’s next five weeks. 

“We’re not where we want to be but there’s process on how we’re going to get back there and this next five weeks allows us to simplify our focus.

“We have some real key areas at the end of the five weeks where we want to show huge improvements.”

Facing the Storm at AAMI Park may be the Rabbitohs’ toughest test of the lot; Souths have lost on all 18 of their previous trips to Melbourne.

On Sunday, captain Cam Murray said Demetriou had already been “dragged through the mud” over the Rabbitohs’ poor start to the season but the coach shrugged off the pressure ahead of the Melbourne clash.

“I feel great, to be honest,” he said.

“(The pressure) is obviously all external noise but the fact is the players want to play and they’ve turned up every week. 

“We saw that in that performance (against the Sharks) and I’m sure we’ll see that again tomorrow night.”

The Rabbitohs welcome Cook back to their starting side after he was dropped for their last game before the bye.

Cook admitted at the time he was “angry” to have been relegated to NSW Cup but Demetriou was pleased to have hit a nerve 

“There’s 36 players in your squad, a few injuries and there’s 15 blokes that aren’t getting picked every week so you want (them) to feel hurt,” he said.

“It’s no different to Tallis Duncan and Sean Keppie at the moment, they’re feeling the same but they’ve got to fight their way back in. 

“Cookie’s an experienced player, we need him at his best.”