South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou has declared the club’s implosion rests squarely on his shoulders as the Rabbitohs face up to the prospect of missing out on finals for the first time in six years.
Friday’s 26-12 loss to the Sydney Roosters ensured Souths are the first team in the NRL era to lead the competition through the first 11 rounds and then go on to miss the top eight.
The Rabbitohs’ electric form up to May led them to being anointed favourites to win the grand final but in the time since they have a 4-9 record to their name.
Before the final-round defeat to the Roosters, the Bunnies had only been out of the top eight one week, but the second week is the one that really matters.
While their rivals will be plotting their charge towards the grand final, Demetriou will begin a period of soul searching to get to the bottom of their dramatic capitulation.
“It’s going to be part of a deep review for sure,” Demetriou said.
“I’ve got to hold my hands up. I’m the head coach I have to make sure we’re better and that we’re not falling like we were.
“You can sit here and make excuses but it hurts, it’s a tough lesson to learn.”
After four preliminary final appearances and a grand final in 2021 in the last five seasons, the pressure will be on Demetriou to turn things around next year.
But there are a number of factors that have conspired against him in 2023.
He has rarely had forwards Tevita Tatola, Tom Burgess and Jai Arrow all fit and on the field at the same time.
Latrell Mitchell’s absence looms as the biggest factor after the fullback picked up a calf complaint on the eve of State of Origin I and took more than two months to return.
Mitchell was suspended for Friday’s defeat after a fortnight in which Demetriou’s treatment of him led to club great Sam Burgess leaving his role as an assistant coach.
But Demetriou refused to attribute the club’s internal dramas to their late-season collapse.
“We're a pretty tight ship, we work our things out together and inside the four walls so it's disappointing that things are getting out,” Demetriou said.
“It's a small part of a lot of little things that have added to where we're at.”
Demetriou will lose prop Hame Sele, fullback Blake Taaffe and back-rower Jed Cartwright next year.
Jack Wighton joins from Canberra but it will take more than that to solve Souths’ woes.
“We’ll make sure we remember how much this hurts and use this as motivation to never feel this feeling again,” said captain Cameron Murray.
“It’s hard to put your finger on where it went wrong.”