South Sydney deny report Mal Meninga on list to replace coach Jason Demetriou

Scott Bailey and George Clarke
AAP
4 Min Read
Souths have denied they are looking to bring in Mal Meninga to replace Jason Demetriou.
Souths have denied they are looking to bring in Mal Meninga to replace Jason Demetriou. Credit: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

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.

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Fox Sports reported Demetriou’s demise was assured and the only question after this weekend’s game against Cronulla will be who will replace him.

Meninga, a rugby league Immortal and the Australian coach, is on a shortlist including Michael Maguire and Ben Hornby.

The all-conquering Queensland coach with nine State of Origin series wins is believed to have the stature and strong personality the ailing club needs to dig itself out of its on-field crisis which is almost being overshadowed by its off-field dramas with star centre Latrell Mitchell.

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.”

Increased conjecture over Demetriou’s replacement only adds to the speculation that Saturday’s meeting with the Sharks could be his last.

Damien Cook
Damien Cook (3rd left) is determined to earned his spot back in the South Sydney team. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

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.

“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.”

Cook’s comments came as former Rabbitohs captain Adam Reynolds threw his support behind Demetriou and embattled pair Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker.

Mitchell, below, will miss the clash with Cronulla after copping a three-game ban for a forearm to Shaun Johnson’s head against the Warriors.

With Lachlan Ilias first dropped and then injured, it leaves Walker as the only remaining member of their round-one spine.

Walker has also been below par this year, as Souths’ end-of-season woes from 2023 carried into this season.

Also lingering are claims that Demetriou has afforded preferential treatment to Mitchell and Walker, something Brisbane skipper Reynolds said he had not seen while at Redfern. “When I was there they were terrific team players and got the job done,” Reynolds said.

“I had no problems when I was there with them. When you aren’t playing your best football, it’s easy for outsiders to make judgment on these players. But their teammates and ex-teammates would love to have them in the team every day.”

Reynolds played under Demetriou when the coach was Wayne Bennett’s assistant at Souths.

“I’m not down there so I don’t know (what is going wrong), but I feel for the boys and JD,” Reynolds said.

“I worked with JD before and I know he is a great coach.”

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