Since team lists came out on Tuesday afternoon, the overwhelming narrative has been that Jason Demetriou made a major blunder by axing Damien Cook.

The under-siege coach, according to all reports, has just 80 minutes to save his job during what will be a tough encounter on Saturday evening against the Cronulla Sharks.

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In what will likely go down as one of the biggest surprises of the year though, Demetriou decided to swing the axe on Damien Cook.

Cook, understandably disappointed at the decision, played State of Origin as recently as last year but has been unable to turn the tide for South Sydney during a horror second half of 2023. The Rabbitohs first dropped him from his starting spot after 11 rounds to missing the finals, which has rolled into a dreadful start to 2024.

After five rounds of the competition, the men from Redfern sit bottom of the table and have conceded more points than any other team by a significant difference (the Rabbitohs have let in 162 across their five games, with the St George Illawarra Dragons being the next worst on 130, although the Gold Coast Titans 125 in four games is comparable). 


South Sydney have also struggled in attack, scoring 14.4 points per game for the second-worst average in the competition, only ahead of the Titans.

And now, ahead of what could reportedly be Demetriou's final game as the club's coach after their one-and-four start to 2024, he has decided to make Damien Cook the fall guy.

Cook admitted to Sky Sports Radio on Wednesday that he was left angry by the decision.

“Of course I'm angry – frustrated and angry; sad, all the emotions,” Cook told The Big Sports Breakfast radio show on Wednesday.

“No doubt, it shocked me. It was obviously a tough conversation (with Demetriou) in the morning.

“I want to be out there on the field doing my best to get us out of where we are. That's why I'm angry and frustrated because I want to be out there with them.

“But I can't mope around. All I can do is focus on my game, where I can be better and work harder to get back. I'm confident I'll be back.”

NRL Semi Final - Eels v Rabbitohs
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 10: Damien Cook of the Rabbitohs celebrates as he runs in to score a try during the NRL Semi Final match between the Parramatta Eels and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Bankwest Stadium on October 10, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Cook has hardly been the worst Rabbitoh over the opening rounds and has tackled himself to a standstill at points.

He was the top tackler for the Rabbitohs against the New Zealand Warriors in a disastrous loss on Saturday afternoon at Homebush and has averaged 42 per game across the opening five rounds.

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Despite that, there is an apparent impatience with what Cook has brought to the number nine jersey for the side this year, with the hooker not playing the full 80 minutes in three of his five games so far this year, including the Round 3 48 points to 6 loss against the Sydney Roosters where he came from the bench.

The only games he has played the full 80 minutes in were in Round 1 against the Manly Sea Eagles halfway around the world in Las Vegas and in Round 4, when the Rabbitohs had most of the downhill running in their only win of the season against the Canterbury Bulldogs.

While two competition points are two competition points for a badly struggling outfit, the Rabbitohs' win was less than convincing. The service from the dummy half was only just satisfactory, with South Sydney's attack often looking clunky after a blitz saw them shoot to an early lead.

That was the only period of play this season when the Rabbitohs had the upper hand, though, and for Demetriou, something had to change.

South Sydney Rabbitohs Training Session
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 08: Rabbitohs head coach Jason Demetriou looks on during a South Sydney Rabbitohs NRL Training Session at Redfern Oval on March 08, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The timing of Cook's dropping may not come as a surprise, given that something had to change, although it is set against a backdrop of general frustration around the club, with talk of players (and ex-staff) not agreeing with the way Demetriou coaches or manages his players.

No current players have spoken out against the embattled coach, but certainly, where there is smoke, there is generally a flickering fire.

The issue is that Cook has had one try assist, one line break and very little else to show for his efforts so far this season across five games. For a hooker part of a side who, looking at their roster, should be in the mix for the premiership, that simply isn't good enough.

There is no point, however replacing a player - particularly one of Cook's star power - if there isn't a suitable replacement.

In this instance, though, there is. Peter Mamouzelos is the future of the Rabbitohs' number nine jersey. It's clear he wants the job, and the club wants him in it after the back-up hooker signed a new deal this year that ensures he remains at Redfern likely past the end of Cook's career.

It was a big call by Mamouzelos to put his faith in South Sydney's system, eventually bringing him through, but if he plays well this weekend, he could win the number nine jersey and never give it back.

That would sting Cook, but this could also be the move that, risky as it is for Demetriou, whose side plays the Melbourne Storm away from home and Penrith Panthers following their clash with Cronulla, has the potential to flip South Sydney's season around.

While he only played when the game was dead against the New Zealand Warriors on Saturday, he looked up to the task, and has previously as well across his seven NRL appearances, most of which have come while Cook and a host of other players have been away on State of Origin duty.

NRL Rd 14 - Rabbitohs v Knights
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 12: Peter Mamouzelos of the Rabbitohs passes during the warm-up before the round 14 NRL match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Newcastle Knights at Stadium Australia, on June 12, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

But this is the chance for Mamouzelos to make a name for himself, and while his NSW Cup form hasn't been exceptional, he is averaging almost 70 metres per game, has a try, a try assist, three offloads and eight tackle busts to his name in just three games, and is fit, having played 80 minutes in each of his three efforts at that level so far.

His 92 per cent tackle efficiency does raise some questions - hookers generally tackle at more than 95 per cent - but the Greek international has a willingness for the contest and will be right up for this Saturday's battle against the Sharks. 

They come with their own battle, with Blayke Brailey consistently gaining praise from coach Craig Fitzgibbon but a mixed bag of feedback from fans.

Like South Sydney's NRL side, the reserve-grade outfit has struggled, but this has more than just a player out of sorts being dropped to it.

This move is Demetriou telling his side that anyone who doesn't perform well is replaceable. 

The other big change - forced - is Jye Gray making his NRL debut to replace Latrell Mitchell. In a star-studded side, Mitchell could return from suspension in a few weeks at centre if Gray impresses.

Demetriou has now made it clear that this is the sort of move he would have no hesitation making if his team didn't turn a corner.

And, of course, if he is still the coach.

This week could well decide it, and the embattled coach, in the biggest call of his career, has gone Built Different and put the steering wheel in Mamouzelos' hands.

Can the inexperienced dummy half save a coach and a disastrous season?

Demetriou will look like something of a magician if he does.

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