Wayne Bennett is set to quit coaching the Newcastle Knights at the end of the season. Credit: Grant Trouville. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Seven-time premiership winning coach Wayne Bennett has confirmed he will quit as Knights coach at the end of the season.
Bennett was originally signed until the end of 2015 when first brought on deck by former owner Nathan Tinkler three years ago, but the 64-year-old's contract has been up for renegotiation since the collapse of the mining magnate's ownership several weeks ago.
The former Broncos and Dragons mentor has officially announce he is departing the club after three years of service, with speculation regarding a return to either his old clubs set to increase as a result.
St. George Illawarra in particular is firming as a likely destination for Bennett, given the club's sacking of head coach Steve Price earlier this year, and the refusal of the Dragons to commit long-term to current interim coach Paul McGregor.
The veteran coach informed Knights players and staff on Thursday morning of his decision, which he says was based on a disappointing run of results despite NRL CEO Dave Smith publicly declaring he hoped Bennett would stay on to help rebuild the club following the tumultuous ownership change.
"The NRL and those that are running the club are keen for me to stay but I've been here three years, and I don't think our performances, particularly this year have been satisfactory," said Bennett
"In view of that, I'll take a bit of responsibility and ownership of that – I always have. If I was in my first year here, it might have been different... but it's my third year now and I was disappointed with what we've done and it gives someone an opportunity to come and see what they can do.
"While we have been faced with many challenges, the club is heading in the right direction and I have confidence in the structures now in place.
"I believe it will take a number of years to reach an acceptable position and that is what I am unable to commit to. A longer term coach is crucial for future success."
Bennett will carry the clipboard for his 700th top grade game as coach this weekend when the Knights clash with the Sharks in a bid to claim a third successive win and further distance themselves from what would be the first wooden spoon of his 27-year career.
The man Bennett replaced as Knights mentor when he first arrived at the club, current Knights assistant and NSW Cup coach Rick Stone, is the early frontrunner for the club's head coaching position in 2015.
Whether current Maroons and Kangaroos winger Darius Boyd – who is a noted favourite of Bennett's and has previously followed him from the Broncos and the Dragons over the years – joins Bennett in departing the Knights before or at the conclusion of his current deal at the end of next season remains to be seen.
Knights CEO Matt Gidley is disappointed to lose Bennett but understands his decision.
"Wayne has made this decision because he believes it is what is best for the club," said Gidley.
"Wayne's experience has been invaluable, particularly during our challenging periods."