NRL news 2022 | South Sydney Rabbitohs v Penrith Panthers, Lachlan Ilias hooked v Dragons analysis, Andrew Johns

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When South Sydney refused to meet Adam Reynolds’ contract demands, driving the premiership-winning playmaker to Brisbane, fans were absolutely ropable.

Feelings of resentment compounded when Reynolds performed like the buy of the season for the Broncos, while supporters called into question the decision to trade in a club legend to elevate the highly touted but unproven 22-year-old Lachlan Ilias.

So when Souths coach Andrew Demetriou gave Ilias an early shower during the Rabbitohs’ woeful loss to the Dragons in round 15, the noise grew louder as Reynolds’ attacking nous led the Broncos to the top four, a spot they would hold until round 19 before dramatically collapsing late in the season.

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Ilias’ first half axing when his side was down 32-0 after 28 minutes against a lowly-placed Dragons side was viewed as a humiliating message to the first-year NRL player, who the coach claimed had gotten a little too comfortable.

Fast-forward three months, the harsh call by Demetriou has seemingly paid off for Souths, with the halfback proving he’s more than just a reliable piece on the defensive side of the ball.

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“I thought that was ridiculous, I thought ‘why would you take your young halfback off, it will knock the confidence around?'” Andrew Johns said on Wide World of Sports’ Freddy and the Eighth.

“But it speaks volumes for the coach who made the big decision, and the character of Lachlan Ilias.

“Every time I see him he’s improved out of sight. I said the other day he’s the best defensive half and I stand by that.

“His running has improved with some show and go and his passing has improved. He’s doing a lot more kicking, taking pressure off Cody (Walker) and his combinations are building on the right side.”

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All in all, Demetriou has endured Ilias’ growing pains in the top grade and went on to name him in the No.7 jersey for the team’s round 16 clash against the Eels.

The first two weeks of the finals has vindicated the decision to let Reynolds go to pave the way for Ilias. On Saturday night the young halfback looms as a key thorn in the side of a Penrith team that has already been handed the premiership by many pundits.

It’s an incredible change in fortunes that few foresaw in the early stages of the season, as disquiet surrounding Reynolds’ departure lingered.

“They started slow and I said it was ridiculous that they would let a local junior go in Adam Reynolds but I’ve totally turned on that,” Johns said.

“I think it was a win-win for all parties.”

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