John Morris underrated in NRL coach debate: Demetriou

·3-min read
Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS

South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou believes assistant John Morris has been undersold in the head-coaching debate as speculation intensifies about Anthony Griffin's position in charge of St George Illawarra.

Before the season had started, the Dragons told Griffin he would need to apply to keep his job into next year but five consecutive losses have meant he is no certainty of seeing this one out.

St George Illawarra reportedly held informal talks with Sydney Roosters assistant Jason Ryles earlier this week and Ryles' ex-Dragons teammates Ben Hornby and Dean Young have been floated as two other potential successors.

Hornby captained the Red V to their only premiership as a joint venture in 2010 and worked on their NRL coaching staff before joining the Rabbitohs as an assistant for the 2020 season.

Ahead of round 11, Demetriou endorsed Hornby as a strong candidate for a head-coaching job but backed Morris in as well.

"Both of them are outstanding candidates and I think would do a great job as a head coach, and probably should be in the frame for head coaching jobs more than they are," Demetriou said.

"I'm lucky to have two really good assistants that could be head coaches in their own right. I rely on those guys a lot and they help me out a heap."

Off-contract with Souths at the end of this year, Morris was Cronulla's head coach from 2019 until his dismissal early in the 2021 season.

On his arrival, he inherited a young Sharks roster and blooded such players as Will Kennedy, Blayke Brailey, Briton Nikora, Toby Rudolf and Ronaldo Mulitalo - all of whom have become regular first-graders in a Cronulla side that finished second on the ladder last year.

Morris took the young Sharks to the finals in both of his seasons in charge despite playing each with a $353,000 salary cap disadvantage incurred for breaches that predated his head-coaching tenure.

He was sacked in April of 2021 to make way for highly-rated Roosters assistant Craig Fitzgibbon, a move that ended Morris' 11-year association with Cronulla and received widespread media criticism.

"The way that ended doesn't help (his coaching chances)," Demetriou said.

"But people forget he took them to finals, had a lot of changeover in the roster and some salary cap restraints.

"He did a fantastic job in tough circumstances.

"Even the growth he's had since he's been here has been outstanding."

The Rabbitohs have beaten Melbourne, Brisbane and Penrith on their five-game winning streak to affirm their status as the form team of the league.

But the side will remain grounded heading into Saturday's clash against the resurgent Wests Tigers.

"We break the season down into blocks and we're starting a new block this week," Demetriou said.

"We're back to nil-nil and we've got to build it again."

"The Tigers have had back-to-back wins and were probably unlucky not to win the two games before that as well. We know there's a good challenge on our hands."