South Sydney hooker Damien Cook has labelled criticism linking the club's dip in form directly with the exit of Adam Reynolds as a "cop-out" before throwing his support behind rookie replacement, Lachlan Ilias.
After 10 seasons and a record 1896 points for the cardinal and myrtle-clad club, Reynolds departed the Harbour City at the cessation of 2021 after the Redfern product was unable to agree to terms to remain in the suburb, shifting north to join the Broncos at Red Hill.
And while Souths' form line has fallen off a cliff-face since the tattooed maestro traded his hometown for the River City, Cook contended that the Rabbitohs' woeful set completion rate of 72 per cent - the worst in the competition - was not symptomatic of one star's departure.
“It’s just an easy cop-out really for people to say that we’re missing him, we’re not,” Cook said of Reynolds' exit, via The Canberra Times.
At 5-6 and with a points differential of +1, the sweeping run that saw Souths make the grand final just last season seems a world away.
And while the former Pride of the League is still suffering from routine clunkiness off the play the ball, Cook suggested the fault of that should not be shouldered by Ilias alone.
“Lachy has been one of our consistent players. It’s individual areas right across the board that where we’re making errors," Cook continued.
“If our team’s not going forward and not completing well, what can we expect our halves to do off the back of that?
“We’ve got to make sure we’re doing a good job and those little things, getting the completion rate up individually and as a team.
“And then when we get down there (in attack), letting the halves do their thing.”
After making his debut in Round 25 of last season, Ilias has gone on to don Souths' eye-catching hoops in each of the club's 11 fixtures.
Yet, while Cook was willing to preach the young halfback's consistency, the 22-year-old's average of 80.54 run metres and just a singular try and four assists are still south of the efforts brought to the table by departees Reynolds and Benji Marshall.
Still, Cook, like the club, believed the signs shown by the ex-Tigers development prospect would see him become a mainstay at the Burrow before too long.
“(I feel for him) a little bit, because he’s copped a lot of pressure and we’re talking about a halfback, which is one of the biggest roles in a team,” Cook said.
“He’s only 10 or 11 games into his career. So he’s still learning his trade.
“He’s showing signs of a great halfback already and he’s got the bases there, including defence and a great kicking game.”
Both Ilias and the Bunnies will earn their latest chance to square their seasonal ledger when they face Wests at Accor Stadium on Saturday evening.