Wayne Bennett has confirmed his interest in returning to St George Illawarra after the seven-times premiership-winning coach threw himself into the market by announcing he would leave Newcastle at the end of the season.
Bennett, who stunned players and staff with the news on Thursday morning, said he had effectively sacked himself because of unsatisfactory performances at the Knights during his three-year tenure.
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However, the 64-year-old insisted that he had not lost his desire to coach in the NRL and simply felt that the rebuilding of the Knights would take more time than he was able to devote to the job.
Put simply, Bennett appears keen to take charge of a team he believes is capable of winning a grand final within two years, and it is understood Dragons chief executive Peter Doust has already inquired about his interest in returning to the club he steered to the 2010 premiership.
With Bennett having always insisted he would not talk to a club with another coach in place, St George Illawarra would appear to be his only option following the dismissal of Steve Price six weeks ago. But by announcing he was leaving Newcastle, the former Broncos and Dragons mentor has put the onus on other clubs that could be interested in his services to make a decision on their own coach.
Brisbane, where he won six premierships in 21 seasons before leaving in 2009, head that list. Gold Coast, North Queensland and the Warriors have also been linked to Bennett.
‘‘I can only go to one place and I am not sure what the future holds,’’ Bennett said during a press conference in Newcastle. ‘‘It all remains to be seen what I do. I haven’t made any decisions about that.’’
Asked if he was interested in the Dragons job, Bennett said: ‘‘I am unemployed at the end of October, so I am interested in any job.’’
Despite admitting he had decided to leave the Knights after the club’s ownership was last month transferred from former billionaire Nathan Tinkler to the NRL, Bennett said he was yet to discuss his future with rival clubs.
‘‘I just wanted this matter resolved first and foremost,’’ he said. ‘‘I will see what is available now.’’
Interim St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor has growing support to retain the job but knows that if Bennett wishes to return to the club, he will almost certainly have to step aside. Having said he was not interested in coaching elsewhere, McGregor might be lost to the NRL as Bennett did not have a place for the then strength and conditioning coach when he joined the Dragons in 2009.
‘‘With me, nothing really changes,’’ McGregor said. ‘‘What Wayne’s world is, whatever he does he does. I can’t control that; it doesn’t concern me to be honest. He’ll be linked back to the Dragons, Broncos, Cowboys – wherever he wants to be linked back to really. All I can control is the playing group I’ve got. I don’t concern myself with what’s going to happen in the future because that’s the future.’’
Doust told Fairfax Media: “At the time of announcing Paul McGregor as caretaker coach of the Dragons at the end of May, we also advised that we would be undertaking a detailed process to identify a head coach for next season and beyond.
‘‘We don’t believe it appropriate to speculate on our progress or the candidates.’’
By announcing his departure after three years at the Knights, Bennett said he was accepting responsibility for performances he said had ‘‘embarrassed’’ him.
‘‘Our overall performance this year has been the catalyst,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m extremely disappointed. I’m embarrassed by it.
‘‘It’s time to move on. I’ve spent 12 months, this season, trying to rectify it. And I won’t quit trying to rectify it, but I think it’s up to someone else to take it forward from here.’’