Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou has defended his “unfair” decision to bench halfback Lachlan Ilias with 51 minutes remaining.South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou has defended his “unfair” decision to bench Rabbitohs halfback Lachlan Ilias with 51 minutes remaining in Thursday evening’s loss to the St. George Illawarra Dragons in Wollongong.The Rabbitohs were dreadful in defence in the first half at WIN Stadium, with Anthony Griffin’s men diving over for six tries in the opening 26 minutes. The Dragons repeatedly caught the Bunnies back-pedalling, relief only coming three minutes from halftime when South Sydney received their first penalty of the match.Stream every game of every round of the 2022 NRL Telstra Premiership Season Live & Ad-Break Free During Play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-days free now.Ilias’ evening got off to a horror start, with the 22-year-old dropping the kick-off on the first play of the game.And Demetriou made the brutal call to substitute Ilias in the 29th minute, moving Kodi Nikorima to the halves and bringing Blake Taaffe on as fullback – but the Bunnies coach was spoiled for choice for players he could have benched.A dejected Ilias was consoled by veteran teammate Damien Cook in the sheds following the 32-12 defeat.“I felt really sorry for him,” Newcastle Knights great Matthew Johns said on Fox League’s The Late Show with Matty Johns.“We saw it with young Kyle Flanagan, when Trent (Barrett) hooked him in that game, suddenly you saw the confidence drop away.“I think it is really unfair on a young bloke, particularly with Ilias when a lot of pressure has been put onto him post Adam Reynolds, and Jason Demetriou has been defending him and deflecting.“But he had a difficult start to tonight and he was in a side that was just floundering and I don’t know if there was an injury or he was just replaced but I think it is a really tough call on him and I really feel for him.”Former Queensland representative Johnathan Thurston echoed Johns’ remarks on Channel 9’s coverage: “To be hooked after 30 minutes, that‘s got to crush his confidence. I think the team really needs to rally around him.“We have these young halves that come in there and (we) expect them to be able to get the team around the park and have try assists, linebreak assists and all these stats, but until you start getting into 50-plus games and start to master how you do that, he‘s got a lot of work to do.“It‘s a big call for the coach to hook him after 30-odd minutes, but the team certainly need to rally around him now because he will be crushed.”Rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns continued on Channel 9’s Thursday Night Knock Off: “I could not imagine what his confidence would be (after) getting hooked tonight. I find it really, really surprising they‘d do that to a young halfback.“It was really good to see Cooky get around him because he would be embarrassed by it. I think he‘s got a massive future, Lachlan Ilias, and I was surprised he got hooked. I really feel for him.”Speaking to reporters in the post-match press conference, Demetriou explained that Ilias was brought off because his side “needed some energy” following the debilitating start. “I will sit down with Lachie and go through that a bit, but the team was under the pump,” he said.“Lachie has been great for us. He will learn from it no doubt.“I haven’t spoken to him yet, but I’m sure he is disappointed.”However, Demetriou bristled at suggestions his decision would damage Ilias’ confidence going forward.“I don’t think so, I think it is part of your learning,” he responded.“I don’t think he is the first bloke who has had a bad day at the office.“He wasn’t on his own. He has got great resilience. He has got good temperament. He will learn from it no doubt.”Demetriou clarified that Ilias was “100 per cent” still the side’s long-term halfback.“He is a guy that has barely played any footy over the last two years and he is 14 games into his NRL career and we were 20-odd-nil down,” he said.“It is not fair on him to expect him to be the one to get us out of that.“Next week Lachie will be there and he will get himself going again.”Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker was frustrated throughout of the match, barking at teammates as he tried to rally a bunch of troops who, at times, looked like they’d only just met each other. The 20-point loss is certainly nothing to be overly concerned about for Souths, but there are better mindsets to be in as the field enters for the final 10 weeks of the season.The Rabbitohs will next face the Parramatta Eels at Accor Stadium on Saturday, July 2, with kick-off scheduled for 7.35pm AEST.– with James Smith, NCA NewsWireOriginally published as ‘Really unfair’: Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou defends controversial Lachlan Ilias benching
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