Wayne Bennett is adamant he will be coaching the Brisbane Broncos until the end of 2019 and has dropped a bombshell by revealing he's received offers from other NRL clubs should he wish to coach beyond next season.
Bennett faced the Brisbane media minutes after an admission by Broncos CEO Paul White that he had met with Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy about coaching the Broncos beyond 2020.
NRL.com understands the Broncos have discussed a $5 million four-year offer with Bellamy.
White told a packed media conference at Broncos HQ that "there are no negotiations taking place" while admitting there had been a conversation with the Storm mentor.
White assured Bennett that he would be the Broncos coach until the end of 2019 and Bennett said he accepted that guarantee and would not be stepping aside early.
As for coaching other clubs, Bennett revealed "a couple rang me up in the last couple of weeks" while not being prepared to say which ones.
"I’ve already had a couple of offers, so it’s not that the door’s closed on me. It’s not. I want to stay here, I want to work here but I also want to do the right thing by this club," he said.
Bennett said he had asked White to touch base with Bellamy, whose contract with the Storm expires at the end of this year, to prepare the club for life beyond his own tenure.
"I was part of a conversation about a month ago with the chairman [Karl Morris] and Paul White to talk about our future as a club,” Bennett said.
"I told Paul that one of his responsibilities was to get the best coach possible for this club. I said we’d be silly not to look at Craig who is coming off contract, but the difficulty for him is he’d have to sit out a year.
"I initiated it. I’ve got to be a bit honest in life. I don’t want [the succession plan] unfolding without me having some control over it and without me being a part of it. I’ve spent 25 years of my life here."
Bennett said whether he coached beyond 2019 was "a decision for another day".
"I have always put the club first here and I will put the club first again. If it means I finish a bit earlier than I want to then that is a price I’ll pay,” he said.
"There is a factor for me with health and age and I’ve got to make sure I am capable of doing the job. I am right now.
"I feel great physically and mentally, I'm not going to be defined by my age. I may well want to coach later on but if the club doesn’t see that’s relevant then I’ll coach somewhere else."
As for when he would make a decision on his future, Bennett said that early next year would "be an appropriate time for me".
"Physically I’ve got to make sure I’m in good health and all that type of stuff. I’m not getting any sillier with coaching I can tell you – it’s a job you continually learn at.
"I’ve been good enough all these years to make sure I haven’t taken a position that I know everything, because I don’t. I’ve been improving myself and I think at this point in my life I’ve still got a lot to offer. But that’s another decision."
Bennett said "I’m staying here in 2019", confirmed the idea of co-coaching with Bellamy was “not practical” and said Jason Demetriou and Kevin Walters had also been discussed as possible successors.
He conceded he only found about the White/Bellamy meeting after it had occurred.
"I didn’t know that Craig had been approached. I asked Paul to tell me that but I didn’t know that had happened until someone gave me a tip about seven days ago," he said.
"It is no big deal. I don’t think he did it deliberately."
White confirmed no other NRL coaches apart from Bellamy had been approached by the Broncos "at this stage".
"Wayne understands as much as anyone that we've got to have an eye for the future and he’s comfortable that that's part of my job," White said.
"Wayne and I have been consistent. He's got a contract until the end of 2019."
"We've had a conversation with Craig. That conversation was predicated by a conversation with Wayne and the chairman.
"Craig's currently considering an offer from Melbourne and we won't be impinging on that process."
Asked whether the Broncos would table Bellamy an offer, White said "we would need to understand from Craig that he wasn't prepared to sign with Melbourne".
Bellamy has a three-year offer on the table from the Storm that he is mulling over.
White predicted there would be no angst should the Broncos elect to go with another coach aside from Bennett beyond 2019.
"If we come up with a plan and it's a plan that's communicated internally the right way, I know long-term that Wayne will be supportive of that," he said.
Bennett said times had changed since his first stint as coach at the Broncos, but the trust he had in the club's administration was rock solid.
"I never signed a contract here in 21 years because I trusted the people that run the place," he said.
"I’ve come back and I trust the people that run the place now.
"I signed a contract when I came back [in 2015] because things have changed a bit with accountants but the bottom line is …I know I am here until the end of 2019."