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'If that changes, time will tell': Demetriou defiant despite defeat as Souths lose three to injury in Sharks loss

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Editor
13th April, 2024
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Jason Demetriou’s tenure at South Sydney is almost certainly up after a 34-22 defeat at the hands of Cronulla that leaves the Bunnies 1-5 going into their first bye of the year.

While the results have been dreadful for Demetriou, there wasn’t much he could do about this: Souths lost three players before half time and were never a chance after that.

Tevita Tatola departed with an ankle problem, Tyrone Munro to a collarbone and, most crucially, Cameron Murray to a head knock.

They also had Jye Gray, on debut, missing for 15 minutes with a HIA, having already lost 15 minutes of Jacob Host earlier on, leaving one on the bench for over two thirds of the game.

Demetriou expressed pride in his team’s performance in such adversity and said that he was confident he’d be leading the club to Melbourne after next week’s bye.

“I won’t walk around with my head down,” he said.

“I’ve got no reason to. I’ve worked my backside off to get into this position as head coach of one of the biggest rugby league clubs in the world.

“I’m really proud I get to represent these boys, our fans, members and staff, and I’m excited about turning it around. If that changes, time will tell.” 

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Murray’s injury will particularly stick in the craw, as the shot from Sione Katoa that ended the captain’s night on the brink of half time was put on report, but not binned, giving Souths no access to their 18th man.

In between, the performance had actually been OK, with plenty of resilience and fight, but the Sharks always looked like they would have enough to deal with a Bunnies that already lacked Latrell Mitchell, Damien Cook, Campbell Graham and Jai Arrow, then lost three more.

Ronaldo Mulitalo was Cronulla’s best, scoring the first and third and setting up the second to take the Sharks to the break at 16-6, and while they played with their food a little after that, the gap was always there.

Craig Fitzgibbon might sympathise with Demetriou: he lost three forwards in the Sharks’ defeat to the Wests Tigers earlier this year.

He won’t be the type to look too hard at the ladder at this stage, but his side – until Canberra play tomorrow at least – are top of it.

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“It was a really hard fought victory,’ he said.

“The first half in particular, to go in in the lead with the amount of goalline D that we had to do, it was a strong performance there.”

On Mulitalo, Fitzgibbon was impressed by the finishing but even more by the less obvious work.

“Ronny has been delivering most of the year,” said the coach.

“Obviously he’s got the finishing skills and all the highlight stuff but (it’s) the little details in and around where he positions himself in carrying out of backfield and rolling his sleeves up for his teammates.”

Everything that can go wrong does for Souths

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This was a night on which everything had to go right for Demetriou – and before half time, it was clear that nothing would.

When Teig Wilton scored to put the Sharks 10-6 at the half hour, Jack Wighton was at fullback, Murray and Michael Chee Kam in the centres and Tom Burgess the last man standing on the bench.

The question, more than anything, was if the team were still playing for the coach and each other, and amid all this adversity, it would be a fair argument to say that they were.

As far as metres, possession and territory, it was all but equal at half time, and again at the end.

The Sharks had been lethal in their opportunities, but things like that happen when you’re playing a good team and flat out on your luck.

Then again, Souths average 34 points against this year, which is exactly what they conceded tonight.

Yet with the game gone, the Bunnies fought on and on.

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Burgess was a titan in the second half, scoring and leading through the middle as he rotated on and off. Walker came to life and produced a trademark long pass to give Souths hope. Dean Hawkins pulled down Siosifa Talakai with one of the tackles of the year.

If the hierarchy were looking for a better performance, they got one, and it came in the midst of a maelstrom of bad luck.

One suspects, however, that they weren’t, and that this will just go down as another defeat among many this season.

In the week, Demetriou cut the figure of someone who knew his time was up. Were this to be his last game, it would be very, very unfair, given how much went against South Sydney, but rugby league is not a fair game at times.

Cronulla move on

There wasn’t much to win tonight for the Sharkies. They get two points, of course, and left without much by way of injury beyond a cork for Jack Williams.

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Their performance was professional and, as Bunnies dropped everywhere, the win was assured throughout. Everyone was watching the other team.

When they do review on Monday morning, they’ll look at some of the nice shapes in attack and some excellent kicking but will also factor in the quality of opposition, which was heavily depleted.

As far as style is concerned, this was Fitzyball 101. All of the back five made more than 100m with the ball in hand, their tries were a mixture of wingers and backrows and the halves were near perfect with the boot.

They’re getting more and more time into Kayal Iro, who has looked like a first grader playing NSW Cup for years and now is proving he is plenty good enough for this level, and with him ensconced in the centres, it allows Fitzgibbon to have Siosifa Talakai as a multi-use bench battering ram, much like was when he first came into the side.

The late charge from Souths will have given the coach kittens in the box, but there was the feeling that they could have raised their level whenever they wanted or needed to.

As soon as the result got close, they went right up the other end and scored again. It never looked like they wouldn’t.

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