‘Elephant in the room’: Wild Wayne Bennett twist could reshape NRL

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The NRL is bracing for a wild coaching merry-go-round with supercoach Wayne Bennett seemingly holding all the cards.

While South Sydney has nabbed all the headlines after a horror 1-4 start to the season landed Jason Demetriou in the crosshairs, pressure is starting to be put on Eels coach Brad Arthur.

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This is Arthur’s 11th season as Eels coach — 12th if you count an interim coaching stint in 2012 before he got the full-time job — and the side have made just one grand final in that time with the 49-year-old becoming the longest tenured coach in the club’s history last year.

The Eels made the decider in 2022, only to be outclassed by the Panthers.

But the side missed the finals in 2023 and, after losing halfback Mitchell Moses through a broken foot, have slumped to 2-3 for the season, languishing in 14th on the NRL ladder.

While nowhere near the spotlight facing Demetriou, some questions are being asked of Arthur’s tenure as the Eels’ premiership drought is currently in its 38th year.

Arthur has also coached the fifth most amount of games in rugby league history without a premiership at 259.

Speaking on NRL 360, the panel discussed if Arthur was under the pump, particularly with the spectre of Bennett hanging over the NRL.

Bennett is set to leave the Dolphins at the end of the season after two years in charge and has expressed his desire to continue coaching.

One of the most successful coaches in history, Bennett has already been linked to the Eels, in what was believed to be a coaching director role, while Souths are also believed to be set to try and lure the supercoach back to Redfern.

“He’s got to be (under pressure), as much as we love him,” Brent Read admitted. “I think he’s a good coach but 11th year at the club, one grand final, missed the finals last year — I think he has to be.

“If you have 11 years at the club and don’t have a premiership, I think your time is probably up. Time to get a new voice in there.”

He added that the Eels lower grades were both last on the ladder as well, showing the talent was not lining up to be selected in the NRL.

Paul Kent questioned whether the Eels were still one of the great pathway clubs as the demographic of the area has shifted.

“I think Brad Arthur’s a quality coach too,” Kent said. “What he’s got to prove to Parramatta is he’s got them to the grand final, can he show that he can rebuild and get them back there?

“You can’t go all the way back and start again — they won’t have patience for that.

“Last year was a real kick in the guts for Parramatta fans and the Parramatta club itself, this year has to be a vast improvement on that.”

The Daily Telegraph’s Dean Ritchie said be believes the premiership window is closed.

But Read added “the elephant in the room is Wayne Bennett”.

“You’ve got Souths hovering with intent with Wayne, if Parramatta want to go down that path … and he would seem a perfect fit for that footy club.”

Kent said be believed it was why Bennett was biding his time.

“I am absolutely certain Wayne is just sitting there waiting to see what happens at Parramatta,” Kent said.

“That’s why I don’t think he’s in any hurry to get to Souths. I think Souths is going to be his last option.

“If it’s Wayne’s choice, he goes to Parramatta. They’ve got two good halves, they’ve got the basis there as a club to rebuild, they’re starting mid-table. You put a couple of real choice picks around though two halves, they can get you there. You’ve got a fullback who can get you there. They are premiership winning calibre players.

“Whereas Souths don’t have that. At Souths, you’ve got the problem you’ve got to inherit Latrell at fullback and Cody (Walker) at his age … and they’re still trying to find a halfback.

“What he loves more than a challenge is premierships and he’ll go to the team that’s best situated right now to win a premiership. And if that’s Parramatta, that’s where he’ll go.”

Kent said he believed Arthur “could fix Parramatta” but that Bennett would likely go to Parramatta if the job was available.

However, the panel also debated whether Bennett could have a reunion with Sam Burgess, who took over as Warrington coach this season.

Hurdles in the way of the reunion is that Burgess will well regarded in Warrington and the club are reportedly trying to extend his deal and that Souths powerbrokers have told Burgess to stay in England to do his apprenticeship.

Ritchie also said: “Souths keep hearing that Wayne doesn’t want to come back to Sydney.”

Kent didn’t believe it however, saying Bennett would go where there’s a head coaching role available.

The panel suggested Bennett could take the reins of the Rabbitohs again on a three-year deal, before bringing Burgess in for the final season ahead of a succession plan.