Former Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett has offered his unique insight into the dramas at South Sydney, labelling it a "make or break" period for his former protege, Jason Demetriou. The turmoil at South Sydney came to a head this week with the shock exit of assistant coach and club great, Sam Burgess - just two weeks before the NRL finals.
Burgess was understood to be at odds with Demetriou and the club about what he reportedly saw as faltering standards at his beloved club. The disagreement reportedly centred around the apparent preferential treatment of stars Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker and reports they were not being held to the same standards as the rest of their teammates.
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Souths bosses denied those reports and insisted Burgess was leaving to focus on the impending birth of his child and head coaching role at Warrington, which he starts next year. Bennett - who acted as mentor to Demetriou before handing over the head coaching reins to him at the Rabbitohs - admitted his former protege faced an enormous challenge but backed him to see the club through its rocky patch.
"Jason is the coach there now. What's happened here is a great example of what happens (when you lose) and it is how you handle it," Bennett said. "They are under pressure. Simple as that. They haven't performed as well as they should have in a lot of people's minds.
"Pressure is the thing that makes or breaks teams, makes and breaks the individuals and makes and breaks the coaches. "It is whether you handle it or don't handle it."
Wayne Bennett praises Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker
Demetriou fronted the media this week to deny Mitchell and Walker were running the club and Bennett offered his backing to the pair, who he knows well from his Rabbitohs coaching days. When asked whether he had to treat them differently while in charge at Souths, Bennett replied: "No."
He then offered a glowing endorsement of the under-fire pair, adding: "They were great guys. I loved coaching them. They are really good people."
Bennett did admit that while he wasn't privy to the inner workings of South Sydney anymore, he did admit that the drama at the club was not ideal when the team is still fighting to make the finals. "I am not inside so I don't know a whole lot about it but it is not what you want this time of a footy season at any club," Bennett added.
Wayne Bennett wanted Sam Burgess at Dolphins
The veteran coach also confirmed that he wanted Burgess to join his coaching staff at the Dolphins. The Englishman was part of Bennett's coaching setup when he was in charge at the Rabbitohs and also played under the master tactician.
"I did want Sam here," Bennett said about links to the Dolphins. "We would have been great for Sam and Sam would have been great for us. Wiser people convinced him that wasn't going to be good for him, so he didn't come.
"He is a real man. He is someone who if you were in a tough place is the first bloke you'd want beside you. That stuff rubs off on players. Players get that vibe. Players get that feel. The players I have got here, he would have added to."
Bennett echoed the thoughts of many in the league world by tipping Burgess to one day return to the NRL after his stint at Warrington. "You don't know what is going to happen in coaching. You just have to look at South Sydney," he said. Sam will go over there (to Warrington), do two years at least and he will be an NRL coach. I have no doubt about that."
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