Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou has opened up on his controversial decision to hook young halfback Lachlan Ilias during Round 15’s first-half bloodbath against the Dragons.
The Dragons ran in six tries in the space of 26 minutes to shoot out to a 32-nil lead in what Demetriou called a “horrific” game.
Before half time ticked over Demetriou made the tough call to bring Ilias, who was only 15 games into his NRL career, from the field.
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Matty Johns was just one of the many to criticise the decision with the rugby league legend calling it “unfair” on Ilias.
But five months on, while speaking on The Bye Round with James Graham podcast, Demetriou doubled down on the call and also revealed why he’s happy he made it.
Asked if the media overreacted to the incident Demetriou said: “Yes and no.
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“I understand the reaction and I knew the minute I said I want to take Lachie off I knew what was coming,” he added.
“I wasn’t thinking overly about it but I know it’s a decision I’m going to make and I know I’m going to cop it.
“But I’ll stand by it, it was the right decision to make. He was struggling and he had a glassy look in his eye and with young blokes when things aren’t going their way they’re like a deer in headlights and they haven’t got the experience or capability to come through that yet.
“I felt like if I left him out there — it was 30-nil at the time and he had been involved in the last two tries — if I leave him out there and we get beat by 60, how am I going to play him next week? Because I know if I don’t get him off who’s going to be the scapegoat in this? ‘Shouldn’t have let Reynolds go, Ilias isn’t up to it’ so I said nup.”
Demetriou also pointed out what most people missed — the fact that two much more senior players were actually hooked before Ilias.
“What people don’t realise is the first bloke that got hooked was Tom Burgess at the 13th minute mark because he was playing horrific and then Cameron Murray got taken off at the 25th minute, which never happens, because he was playing so terrible,” he said.
“Lachie was the third bloke that came off but because the other two are forwards it doesn’t stand out as much.”
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Demetriou conceded it was a “tough period” for the 20-year-old halfback but believes it was a blessing in disguise because it re-lit a fire inside Ilias to set him up for a strong back end of the year.
“I had spoke to Lachie twice in the last four weeks, I felt like he had lost his motivation to prove to people that he can handle it, was starting to get a bit comfortable and also he was starting to look a bit fatigued,” he said.
“I had been umming and areing about resting him but I thought I’d get him through this game then he’d get the bye.
“I’ve got a great relationship with Lachie. I knew he would handle it well, I just needed to protect him from the external noise.
“I actually didn’t mind it because I copped it, it took pressure off him but it also allowed me to say ‘mate, I told you where we’re going here, you need to get yourself focused.’
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“That period we lost on a Thursday night then had a bye so it was 10 or 12 days until we had contact with the whole team again. I found out through that week there was three days he was in practicing his kicking and doing little things.
“I thought he was outstanding at the back end of the year and he’ll be better for it.”
Ilias was always set to get a baptism of fire at some stage in his first full year of NRL. He was earmarked as the future No.7 of the Rabbitohs but his development was fast-tracked after Adam Reynolds signed with the Broncos and the NRL’s no-fault stand-down policy cost the club Anthony Milford.
Reynolds’ Broncos move was a bombshell story that saw South Sydney slammed for letting a club junior, a premiership-winning half and their captain leave.
But Demetriou, who had a lot of input in the dealings, revealed on the podcast that he wanted Reynolds take up the one-year offer so the club could have more time to find space in the salary cap for the following seasons.
“The reason we weren’t able to offer him more (than a one-year deal) was the cap space beyond that,” Demetriou said.
“If you take the one-year deal it gives us time to move things and see how we can free up some cap (space).
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“One of the conversations I had with Adam was ‘I want you to stay. I know you want longer term but if you take this I’ll find a way to make sure you finish your career here.’
“But then that’s asking him to take a huge leap. He had a three-year offer on the table (with the Broncos) and he’s always wanted to move to Queensland so I sort of knew this was an opportunity for him to get a fresh start.
“I didn’t want Adam to go but at the same time I knew the for the stability of the squad moving forward it was probably the best decision.”