Wayne Bennett phoned Lachlan Murdoch on Sunday, convincing the News Corporation boss he could turn around the struggling Broncos, paving the way for him to be announced as head coach of the Brisbane team on Monday.
The approval of Murdoch was all that was required for Bennett to return as coach of the Broncos in 2015, with the power to choose his own staff, following a series of secret meetings of the board of the Brisbane club. The directors reached a near unanimous view that the appointment of the seven-time premiership-winning coach is necessary to restore team mojo in a city the Broncos once dominated. Club directors have met without the knowledge of chief executive Paul White, who is a strong supporter of the incumbent coach, Anthony Griffin.
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Bennett returns to Broncos
Legendary coach Wayne Bennett is set to be lured back to coach the Brisbane Broncos in 2015.
Bennett, after six years away from his family, was keen to return to Brisbane. The move required the agreement of News, which owns 67 per cent of the shares of the Broncos. Chairman Dennis Watt had the responsibility of seeking the approval of Murdoch, a long-term supporter of the club but Bennett’s phone call clinched the appointment. The Broncos directors believe Bennett can restore team culture, which they think has deteriorated since the 64-year-old left to coach St George Illawarra in 2009.
Three key Broncos players were sacked from Saturday’s match against the Warriors for a midweek, late-night drinking binge. The Broncos defeated the Warriors 28-22, ending a three-game losing streak. The club directors believe Griffin has been given all he has asked for during his three-year term yet the team has finished eighth and 12th the past two seasons. White almost snared Bennett in 2011 when he told the Dragons he was leaving.
Clandestine meetings in the carpark of a supermarket near Sydney Airport between Bennett and White almost reached agreement on a return to the club, where he was the foundation coach. White gained the approval of News to pay Bennett $900,000, a 50 per cent increase on the $600,000 he was paid in his final year at the Broncos three years earlier.
White found another $50,000 to produce a $950,000 offer Bennett described as ‘‘disrespectful,’’ although he disputes saying this. Nor would White agree to all the players and staff Bennett sought to bring to the club. Bennett also had concerns about club powerbrokers he could not trust and has a long-term antagonism towards News which apparently dissipated over the weekend.
Now, his return is less about money and more about control and a return to his home town. The existing coaching staff and White will be replaced by Bennett appointees in a recreation of the ‘‘Wayne’s World’’ environment which produced six premierships. It is anticipated Bennett will coach the Broncos 2015-2016 and maybe 2017 and Kevin Walters, his assistant at Newcastle, would then take control, with Bennett moving to director of coaching. Ironically, Walters was sacked as Bennett’s assistant in Brisbane a decade ago. He is desperate to gain a top coaching post after being short-listed by Wests Tigers and the Cowboys only for the positions to go to Michael Potter and Paul Green respectively.
It has been speculated in Brisbane that Bennett would install his son-in-law, Ben Ikin, as club CEO, although this was not raised with the board. Bennett doesn’t attend board meetings. He seeks a close relationship with the club CEO, as he had with St George Illawarra’s Peter Doust, and expects the pair of them to run the club.
Ikin, formerly director of commercial services at the Titans, has forged a successful career in the media and is a director of the Cowboys. Bennett would also hope another money tree sprouts in Brisbane to provide third-party sponsorships for players.
His long-term benefactor in Brisbane was mining magnate Ken Talbot, who was killed in a plane crash in the Congo in 2010, 10 weeks before he was to face court on corruption charges. The NRL and Australian Securities and Investments Commission are investigating a $300,000 payment from the Broncos Leagues Club, believed to have been used to pay players for third- party deals which fell through.
The Broncos board was scheduled to meet on Tuesday, with Bennett previously declaring he would not negotiate with a club which has a coach. It is understood Griffin was told on Sunday he would not be fulfilling next season’s final year of his contract, clearing the way for a formal declaration on Bennett on Monday. Brisbane did not respond to a request for comment.