South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou says rookie playmaker Lachlan Ilias is still the Rabbitohs’ long-term halfback, adamant he won’t be scarred by being hooked in a horror night in Wollongong.
Ilias played just 28 minutes of South Sydney’s 32-12 loss at the hands of St George Illawarra on Thursday night. The Rabbitohs were down 32-0 when Ilias was benched.
The 22-year-old dropped the opening kick-off but could hardly be blamed for what was South Sydney’s worst half of the season as the Dragons rolled downfield with the weight of possession.
Demetriou opted to move Kodi Nikorima to halfback while Blake Taaffe came on at fullback, with Ilias resigned to watching the bulk of the contest from the sideline.
But the Rabbitohs coach is confident Ilias will bounce back, saying he will start at halfback in a fortnight as Souths prepare to welcome Latrell Mitchell back into the fold for a clash with Parramatta after the bye week.
“I’ve got no doubt Lachie will be a long-term half,” Demetriou said.
“He’s a guy who has barely played any footy over the past two years. He’s 14 games into his NRL career and we’re 20-nil down. It’s not fair on him to expect him to be the one to get us out of that.
“I’ll sit down with Lachie and go through that a bit. The team was under the pump, Blake gives us some energy so I was trying to get a response. Kodi Nikorima has got some experience, and in that position we probably need some experience out there.
“Lachie has been great for us. He’ll learn from it, no doubt. It’s not on him. That first half wasn’t on Lachlan Ilias, no doubt.
“It’s part of your learning. I don’t think he’s the first bloke who has had a bad day at the office. He wasn’t on his own. He’s got great resilience, he’s got a good temperament, he’ll learn from it.”
Speaking on Nine’s commentary of the match, legendary North Queensland and Maroons playmaker Johnathan Thurston said he was stunned by the move.
“Yeah, there’s no way I would’ve come off. I would’ve stuck out there until half-time and then he could’ve hooked me,” the Cowboys great said on Nine’s NRL coverage.
“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, line break 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.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Immortal Andrew Johns.
“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,” the dual premiership-winning former Knights halfback said.
“It was really good to see Cooky get around him because he would be embarrassed by it.”