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The South Sydney Rabbitohs have copped a wave of backlash after brutally hooking rookie halfback Lachlan Ilias, during Thursday night's chastening 20-point loss to the St George Illawarra Dragons.
Ilias lasted just 28 minutes before being pulled off the ground by Bunnies coach Jason Demetriou, as the Dragons raced out to an astonishing 32-0 lead.
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The rookie halfback dropped the opening kick-off but could not be criticised for the Rabbitohs' attack, given they had no good ball at all in the first half.
He also had just one of the Dragons' six tries to that point scored down his channel, while he was fended off by Mat Feagai in the lead up to another.
The Rabbitohs' defence was all over the shop, with the Dragons ruthlessly capitalising on their uncharacteristically sloppy opponents.
Demetriou defended the move to hook Ilias inside the first half hour, while backing the rookie to bounce back in his next match.
"I have no doubt Lachy will be a long-term half," Demetriou said, after brushing off concerns about his future spot in the starting side.
"But he is a guy who has barely played any footy over the past two years.
"He is 14 games into his NRL career and we are (32-0) down, it's not fair to expect him to be the one to get us out of that.
"We had some experience to put Kodi Nikorima there and Blake Taaffe on who has played in some big games.
"Next week Lachy will be there and get himself going again."
However, NRL great Matty Johns led a chorus of criticism over the Rabbitohs' move, warning that Ilias' dumping could destroy the young playmaker's confidence.
“I felt really sorry for him,” Johns said.
“We saw it with young Kyle Flanagan, when Trent hooked him in that game, suddenly you saw the confidence drop away,” Johns said.
“I think it is really unfair on a young bloke, particularly with Ilias when a lot of pressure has been put onto him post Adam Reynolds, and Jason Demetriou has been defending him and deflecting.
“Saying the Adam Reynolds comparisons are irrelevant, he is a good young kid and you can really see him start to come on.
“But he had a difficult start to tonight and he was in a side that was just floundering and I don’t know if there was an injury or he was just replaced but I think it is a really tough call on him and I really feel for him.”
Fears Lachlan Ilias' confidence could be 'crushed'
Channel Nine commentator and NRL legend Johnathan Thurston also slammed the move, and shared similar concerns to Johns about what effect it could have on the young half.
“There’s no way I would’ve come off,” Thurston said on Channel 9’s coverage. “I would’ve stuck out there until half-time and then he could’ve hooked me.
“He dropped the ball after the kick-off, but to be hooked after 30 minutes, that’s got to crush his confidence. I think the team really needs to rally around him.
“We have these young halves that come in there and (we) expect them to be able to get the team around the park and have try assists, linebreak assists and all these stats, but until you start getting into 50-plus games and start to master how you do that, he’s got a lot of work to do.
Demetriou insisted wholesale changes were not required after the Rabbitohs' embarrassing capitulation against the Dragons.
The Bunnies coach claimed things had merely snowballed in a dreadful first half for his side, with the Rabbitohs keeping the home side scoreless after the break.
The Souths coach was left to lament a spate of penalties lack in the tackle count, while 13 Rabbitohs players missed at least one tackle before the break.
Ilias, meanwhile, was forced to watch on from the sidelines, after having already endured a year of criticism over the Rabbitohs' decision to let predecessor Adam Reynolds go.
But Demetriou was clear in his belief the latest setback would not hurt his young playmaker or blunt his ability to bounce back.
"It's part of the learning," Demetriou said.
"He's not the first bloke to have a bad day at the office. He wasn't on his own.
"He's resilient, he has good temperament. He will learn from that."
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