The wonderful thing about rugby league is its predictability. You can forecast events months or even years in advance. For instance, Parramatta’s failure to break into the top eight is almost as certain as death and taxes, as is Tevita Pangai Jnr’s potential future in boxing. Even betting agencies were placing odds on how the Wests Tigers would end their relationship with Luke Brooks; the popular choice being gifting him a Beefeater Bigg Bugg BBQ—a fitting token since their team management effectively grilled his career.
This predictability extends into 2024 as well with speculation already cumulating around Wayne Bennett. Recent events at the Rabbitohs suggest a northwards push for Bennett to succeed Jason Demetriou as the South Sydney coach by late April.
Despite the public outrage over the Rabbitohs‘ decision to let go of club icon, Sam Burgess, a bit of news that lingered beneath the chaos was that Bennett was approached recently by a significant power broker as a potential replacement for Demetriou.
However, the prospect of Bennett’s move was considered challenging for numerous reasons. Chief among them is the fact that Bennett joined the Dolphins only two years prior, and he still has a remaining year on his contract before his assistant, Kristian Woolf takes over. It also seems unlikely Bennett would leave when his current squad at the Dolphins appears stronger and more experienced ahead of the coming season.
Furthermore, Demetriou, whom Bennett deemed his successor, extended his contract for three more years in June, keeping him at the helm until the end of 2026.
Still, the speculation has not died down. Every time when Bennett’s contract is near its term, there’s a media frenzy circling around potential offers from clubs, players, agents and even social media bots. The next cycle of rumours might just start sooner than expected — possibly next week, or even as early as October this year.
While Bennett led Souths to the 2021 Grand Final, his departure from the club was met with a cold shoulder. His attempts to allure fullback Latrell Mitchell to the Dolphins did not sit well with the Souths administration. Hence, not many at the club support the idea of revisiting his leadership, regardless of Bennett’s formidable past record.
Despite the mixed opinions, Crowe remains a staunch fan of Bennett, to the extent he addresses him as “Mr Bennett”. Crowe even invited Bennett to stay as a consultant at the Rabbitohs, a role that Terry Reader, the Dolphins‘ CEO, also hinted might suit Bennett post next year.
But Bennett, who is 73, has always been a coach at heart and has no plans of retiring or assuming a consultancy role. He would want to continue being a head coach, possibly taking onto some new role as early as 2025.
The recent debacle at Souths has furthered speculations of Bennett’s return. Known for his able handling of Mercurial personalities like Micthell and Cody Walker, along with his adept management skills with Crowe and the Souths board, Bennett appears an attractive choice once more.
Last August, Crowe insisted that Burgess be inducted into Demetriou’s coaching staff. This, despite the misgivings of certain Souths figures who apprehended clashes due to Burgess’ dominant nature. Recently, when Bennett tried to recruit Burgess as an assistant coach for the Dolphins, Crowe ensured to counter the move, thus securing Burgess for the Rabbitohs.
This incident, even if unintended, came across as an undermining act towards Demetriou’s authority. Imagine having to carry on coaching duties with the co-owner’s preferred aide by your side? Bennett surely wouldn’t have fallen for such a situation. Although Bennett is equipped with his experience of over 900 first-grade matches compared to Demetriou’s fairly recent foray into coaching, taking on the willful temperament of a Hollywood actor seems to come with the territory of coaching at South Sydney.
Adding to the tension, Demetriou couldn’t even muster the authority to part ways with Burgess. Instead, management and ultimately Crowe carried out the decision. After parting with the team, Burgess has now signed on to coach Warrington in the UK Super League. However, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine his return to Souths at a future date — possibly standing shoulder to shoulder with Bennett.