‘Not smooth sailing’ but no regrets in JD saga: Souths

Jasper Bruce |

Jason Demetriou (right) stands with the players before the Rabbitohs’ Anzac Day loss to Melbourne.
Jason Demetriou (right) stands with the players before the Rabbitohs’ Anzac Day loss to Melbourne.

South Sydney’s chief executive admits it has not been “smooth sailing” at the Rabbitohs in 2024, but the club harbours no regrets over its handling of Jason Demetriou.

The last-placed Rabbitohs fired third-year coach Demetriou on Tuesday on the back of a failed 2023 campaign and a 1-6 record to begin the new season.

The board met from 8am to hear Demetriou pitch for his job, before reconvening in the evening and unanimously deciding to terminate his contract.

“There were no blow-ups, there was no anger, (Demetriou) deals with that sort of adversity very well. It’s a credit to him,” said chief executive Blake Solly.

Having been backed to remain coach after a gallant round-six loss to Cronulla, Demetriou was confident in his ability to inspire the Rabbitohs out of their slump.

But club powerbrokers were convinced otherwise by the 54-20 thrashing Souths copped from Melbourne in their next game.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t think that Jason’s coaching style would be able to get the change that we needed or the improvement we needed,” Solly said.

Former Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou  and CEO Blake Solly.
Former Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou and CEO Blake Solly address the media in 2023. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

“Given that we sit 17th on the table and our for-and-against is 50 points worse than 16th, now was the time to make the change.”

Solly addressed the playing group on Wednesday morning, having informed them of the decision to sack Demetriou via text message the previous night.

The club boss did not believe Demetriou had lost the dressing room, but said the coach was no longer able to get the best out of his players.

“First of all I want to say that Jason is an incredibly hard-working coach,” Solly said.

“But in our view we just felt that the style of play and probably Jason’s management of the players needed to change. 

“I’m talking about the whole of the squad and ensuring that every player in the squad can perform at their best.”

The dismissal came after Souths announced a contract extension for Demetriou last October that tied him to the club through 2026,  though a clause in that deal entitled the coach to only nine months’ wages as his payout.

Solly defended the new contract, and the decision to fire Demetriou after the Storm loss, despite backing him a fortnight earlier.

“Our view was that one game (against Melbourne) was indicative of an inability to turn it around,” Solly said.

“We felt (the contract extension) was important given that we were a premiership threat and we felt we had a campaign and a squad to hopefully go and win that premiership. We gave Jason what we felt he deserved.”

Solly also scoffed at claims from Demetriou’s manager Chris Orr that the Rabbitohs were “cruel” in their handling of the ex-coach, though he was willing to accept it had been a bumpy few weeks at Heffron Park.

“The last 20 games speak for themselves, and for his agent to say that he’s been treated shabbily in the context of a year’s worth of support I think is unfair, and I’m not sure that Jason would share that view,” Solly said.

“I can understand that it hasn’t been particularly consistent or smooth sailing over the last few weeks, but we’ve tried to support the coach and tried to give him as much of our backing as we could.

“Over the weekend, everyone realised that change was needed, and unfortunately the change had to be Jason.”