Master v apprentice: Australian Cypriot Demetriou braces for Bennett test

As he prepares to take on Wayne Bennett for the first time, South Sydney’s Jason Demetriou has paid credit to the supercoach for laying a path for him to take the reins at the Rabbitohs.

Bennett has made a career out of helping players maximise their potential, and he has done similar on the coaching front after luring Demetriou to Brisbane in 2017 to become his No.2.

Demetriou followed Bennett to Redfern at the start of 2019 where a succession plan was put in place that would allow the apprentice to eventually replace his master.

One of the knocks on Bennett’s legacy has been that when he has left, clubs have fallen apart.

But the smooth transition from Bennett to Demetriou allowed Souths to hit the ground running last year, reaching the preliminary final before losing to eventual premiers Penrith.

Thursday night’s meeting between Souths (3-3) and the Dolphins (4-2) at Suncorp Stadium will be the first time Bennett has coached against the Rabbitohs since handing the reins over to Demetriou at the end of the 2021 season.

“I took the idea (of a succession plan) with me, I realised I was running out of time coaching wise,” Bennett said.

“That was the plan we had for the Broncos but they didn’t want to buy into that.

“Jason could have been coaching the Broncos but it wasn’t what they wanted to do.

“Souths were keen to do something like that, so Jason came to Sydney.”

Demetriou had coached with North Queensland and in the lower grades across England and Australia, but he describes his time with Bennett as his most formative.

“I’m not here without him, that’s for sure,” Demetriou said.

“The first conversation was (Bennett saying), ‘I like people who are self-made and you’re who I want to act and think as a head coach’.

“He’s been one of the best mentors I could hope for.”

Demetriou singled out Bennett’s handling of media scrutiny as one of the biggest lessons he took from the veteran coach, along with the ability to stay calm under pressure.

“In the dark times, he stays composed (and) he trusts what his values are,” Demetriou said.

“I remember (Souths suffered) two 50-point losses in 2021 in the space of three or four weeks.

“We could have pushed a panic button, but we didn’t.

“He came in and made it fun and got the players excited to play again, and we went on the run to the grand final.’

Demetriou said one of Bennett’s greatest assets was how he was able to get players to perform at their peak every week.

“He’s got an ability to make you feel good about yourself and that’s the art of coaching,” the Souths mentor added.

“It’s about your players having trust in themselves and you.

“Everybody talks about the younger generation but Wayne still manages to connect with the younger generation, he’s an icon of the game.”

Jason Demetriou is a professional rugby league coach who is the head coach of the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL and a former professional rugby league footballer.

Predominantly a centre, Demetriou spent all of his 13-year playing career in England, playing for six clubs mainly ,Widnes Vikings, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and Keighley Cougarsand for Canada and Greece internationally, due to his Cypriot background and Canada from distant grandparents. He has previously held head coaching jobs at the Keighley Cougars, Northern Pride and Illawarra Cutters and has been an assistant coach for the St George Illawarra Dragons, Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys, where he was on the coaching staff that won the 2015 NRL Grand Final.