The question Bennett needs to address before deciding if he wants to return to Rabbitohs


With the odds of Wayne Bennett returning to the Rabbitohs next year shortening by the hour, there is one question he should be asking himself – would it be better off waiting for another gig? 

South Sydney have a good roster, not a great one, and the players are getting a little long in the tooth. 

Apart from captain Cameron Murray, there are major question marks over the integral players on their roster – Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker and Damien Cook, as well as a gaping hole in the chief playmaker’s role which the Bunnies are banking on English halfback Lewis Dodd to fill. 

As Bennett discovered when he was starting the Dolphins off a couple of years ago, it didn’t matter how many zeroes he put on contract offers, it was near-on impossible to prise any marquee recruits from their current clubs. 

Anyone who’s anyone when it comes to being a surefire representative star is signed up for next year and more often than not for a season or two or three beyond that.

Souths have little salary cap space to operate with anyway after investing heavily in Jack Wighton on a four-year deal but they have received little value for money from the Dally M Medal winner thus far after sticking him out in the centres.

Tom Burgess is leaving at season’s end, Lachlan Ilias will get out sooner if he can after being punted as their first-choice halfback and Alex Johnston’s try-scoring powers are diminishing on the left wing.

He scored just once in four matches this season but was pinged seven times for being part of a try cause – for anyone who still wonders why he has never been picked for Origin, that statistic is all you need to know.

Walker, who is 34, and Cook, 32, are still good players for their position but past their prime and unlikely to suddenly discover the fountain of youth in the remaining year and a half of their lucrative deals.

Mitchell continues to be the enigma whose fluctuating form and availability has been so crucial to South Sydney’s brief periods of success but lengthier struggles over the past couple of seasons. 

Bennett undoubtedly has the rapport and the man management skills to get the best out of the 26-year-old fullback but he can only do so much. 

Wayne Bennett. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

When Bennett guided the Bunnies to the 2021 Grand Final, he had to do so with Mitchell suspended for the playoff series after his moment of madness in nearly taking former teammate Joey Manu’s head off in the penultimate round of the regular season.

The hallmark of all champions, whether that’s players or coaches, is that they’re never satisfied with their achievements. When they eventually are, that’s when they retire.

Bennett has made it clear in various media interviews that he does not want to hang up the coaching clipboard.

And after rising above the subterranean expectations for the Dolphins as a start-up franchise, the 74-year-old will probably only get one more chance to add to his record-breaking tally of seven premierships.

The prospect of helming the next expansion team, if and when that franchise gets the green light (2026 at the earliest), would bring next to no chance of another trophy in the short term.

Unless there’s a dramatic turn of events elsewhere, the only other coaching spot at a team for 2025 that would have a chance of going all the way would be Parramatta. 

Todd Payten is highly unlikely to be ridden out of Townsville by the Cowboys if they continue to stumble, Ricky Stuart’s time could finally be up at Canberra but they’re at the very early stage of a lengthy roster rebuild while Adam O’Brien is no guarantee to remain at the Knights but disregarding the fact that Bennett left the club a decade ago on bad terms, that is another side that is not likely to be a genuine title contender as it is currently constructed.

The coaching gig at the Eels could be worth waiting for. Unlike the Rabbitohs, they have a bona fide top-line playmaker in Mitchell Moses who is one of the top five halfbacks in the competition. 

His halves partner Dylan Brown is at an interesting point in his development at 23 with more than 100 games under his belt already – the Kiwi five-eighth has the talent to become a superstar of the game or he may never make that leap. Who better to get the best out of him than Bennett?

The Eels have the antithesis of Latrell in their No.1 jersey, their wholehearted skipper in Clint Gutherson who is nowhere near as talented as his Rabbitohs rival but runs himself to the point of exhaustion every time he runs onto the park to do whatever it takes to get his team over the line.

With rising stars Will Penisini, Blaize Talagi and J’maine Hopgood already on the books and Zac Lomax on the way, Parra are well positioned to make another tilt at the title after coming so close in 2022 in the remaining few years of Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard leading the way up front.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Souths are short-priced favourites to land his signature with CEO Blake Solly admitting on Wednesday morning that he sits at the “top of the list” of candidates to replace Jason Demetriou after Ben Hornby fills in as caretaker for the rest of this season.

“We’ll take as long as it needs but we’d probably prefer to have it done in weeks, not months. We’re not going to go with a coach who hasn’t coached first-team football before.”

Bennett doesn’t need to prove anything and he could retire tomorrow and still be considered arguably the greatest coach in rugby league history. 

But he clearly wants to sign off with another Grand Final lap of honour after going within seconds of doing so in 2015 at Brisbane and a sideline conversion away from forcing extra time when Souths nearly knocked off Penrith three years ago.

The silver fox that he is, Bennett will know exactly all the alternatives – obvious ones or otherwise – that will be available to him before signing anywhere. 

He usually makes the right choice, but Souths may not be the best option this time around.

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