Wayne Bennett is less than two months from beginning his second season without a fulltime coaching role in 45 years, but the South Sydney mentor insists he isn’t done yet and wants to take charge of a second Brisbane team.
Bennett, who began his senior coaching career with Ipswich in 1976, has only had one year away from the week-in, week-out premiership grind when he took on the Queensland Origin job in 1986 before joining Canberra the following season.
However, the NRL’s longest serving and most successful coach will hand over the reins at Redfern to assistant Jason Demetriou when the 2021 season ends. And for the first time since helping the Raiders to the 1987 grand final, he does not have another position to go to at this stage.
That may change if the ARLC admits a 17th team based in Brisbane and Bennett has made it clear that he wants to coach either the Firehawks, Dolphins or Jets if they are granted a licence to join the Telstra Premiership in 2023 or 2024.
"Have you heard me say that my coaching career is finished," Bennett told NRL.com when asked about wanting to end his tenure at Souths by becoming the first coach to win a grand final with three clubs after achieving premiership success at the Broncos and Dragons.
It is believed that the seven-time premiership winning mentor has held discussions with at least two of the Brisbane bid teams about the head coaching job if they are given the green light to become the first new NRL team since the Gold Coast Titans in 2007.
If no decision is made about expansion, it is understood that Bennett plans to live in Brisbane next year and the 71-year-old may remain involved with the Rabbitohs in a remote coaching or advisory role.
After helping to establish the Broncos as a part-owner and coach in 1988, Bennett believes the time is right for a second Brisbane team and that he could set the club up for success.
"I am honestly confident enough that if I got an opportunity to coach that team, and it did happen, that I could put a successful team together pretty quickly with a bit of help from other people," Bennett said.
"The players are out there. The problem is that a lot of coaches aren't getting the best out of what they have got. I don't fear any of that at all. I know who's under-performing and I know that guys aren't getting opportunities.
"The good clubs help players and develop their talent. There are two or three clubs - without actually naming them - who I see do a great job every year with players that other clubs let go and all of a sudden, these guys resurface and play great football.
"I see an expansion team doing that and another factor is that there are about 10 guys who go to England every year to play. It is still pretty good football so if you say there are 10 of those guys you have only got to find another 20 and I don't think that is a challenge at all."
Bennett said the awarding of the 2032 Olympic Games to Brisbane would generate significant growth and investment, and he believes the NRL should capitalise on that.
Rabbitohs v Titans - Round 22
"If you look at Brisbane and South-East Queensland that is going to be a huge growth area," he said. "That is what [ARLC chairman] Peter V'landys has been on about.
"I think part of most of the bids is that they will expand the game and they will create new clubs and new opportunities for young men and women to play.
"It would be exciting and it would create a hell of a lot of interest as it did in the past. Melbourne has been a great success and the Broncos as an expansion club were a great success, even if they are having a tough time now.
"The other thing that you have got to understand is that the club that is going to be admitted, if there is one, has got to find a $10 million guarantee of cash in the bank to back that bid up.
"That has never been done before with any expansion team so I can't see what the risk is, but I can see the upside."
In the meantime, Bennett is focused on helping the Rabbitohs to the grand final after falling one game short for the past three seasons.
Souths play the Titans on Saturday before matches against Penrith and Sydney Roosters that are likely to determine whether they finish in the top two, or in third place, with their final regular season game against St George Illawarra.
"We have got our hands full but the next four weeks is an opportunity for us to get better and then hopefully in the play-offs we can make an impression," Bennett said.
"We are pretty healthy, we will have a number of players back next week. We have got five or six out this week but most of those will be back next week."