By Glen Lauder
Wayne Bennett takes it easy at his first Rabbitohs training session at Redfern Oval. (AAP: Dean Lewins)
Wayne Bennett strode out of the Redfern Oval tunnel for his first Rabbitohs training session just two days after being sacked by the Brisbane Broncos and made a beeline for a lone fan who was yelling, “thank you, thank you”.
- Wayne Bennett says he has a “clear conscience” following his sacking from the Broncos
- Bennett refused to comment on the speculation there is bad blood between him and Anthony Seibold
- He is contracted to coach the Rabbitohs for the next three seasons
There was a quick handshake before the 68-year-old Bennett strode past the contingent of waiting media and onto the field, where he filled a paper cup with sports drink.
By the time the training session started, Bennett’s new myrtle and green fan club had swelled to at least 30, with plenty more casual observers positioned on the outskirts of the public park in which Redfern Oval is housed.
Bennett cracked a few smiles with some of the senior players, including Adam Reynolds, Cody Walker and Sam Burgess, insisting he was happy with how his Broncos departure panned out.
“Do I look heartbroken?” Bennett replied when asked by the media if the end of a 25-year relationship with Brisbane had taken its toll.
“Half-past-three on Sunday afternoon was the first time I knew about it. I was happy to be sacked, I’ll just leave it at that, I was happy.”
Bennett, a seven-time premiership coach, claimed it was his sense of loyalty to the coaching staff and players at Brisbane that meant he could not bring himself to walk away, instead letting the club force his hand.
“I’m pleased to be here, and I’m pleased I came here on my terms in the sense that I didn’t have to leave the Broncos, I was asked to leave, sacked,” he said.
“Whatever terminology you want to use doesn’t worry me, I’ve got a clear conscience. It was important to me. I’ve been a team member all of my life.”
While the details of Bennett’s pay-out from Brisbane are officially confidential, there are reports he has received a $300,000 compensation package regarding his intellectual property.
But he will reportedly not be paid any amount from the final year of his contract because of alleged breaches relating to making contact with Rabbitohs players while he was still in charge of the Broncos.
“I did [speak to players] on the request of [Rabbitohs general manager of football] Shane Richardson, because they were guys that were under contract, they wanted to keep them here and I was going to be the long-term coach here from 2020,” Bennett said.
“I talked to them about contracts, with Alex [Johnston] in his particular case, he was thinking about moving clubs in the middle of his contract and Souths weren’t keen to lose him so that was purely what the discussions were about.
“I may well have referenced it [the 2019 season] but if I did it wasn’t that I was coming here to coach straight away because I didn’t know that.
“At the end of the day I made a decision to stay at the Broncos, and I’m here under other circumstances now.”
Bennett has ’empathy’ for former Broncos colleagues
Bennett claimed Broncos management had placed four of his coaching staff on “gardening leave” as they waited for new Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold to decide on the make-up of his inner sanctum.
Wayne Bennett (left) shows off his Rabbitohs membership certificate alongside Sam Burgess. (ABC: Chloe Hart)
He said if any of his staff faced being sacked it was unlikely he would be able to bring them to the Rabbitohs, including his senior assistant coach Jason Demetriou, who has been linked with a move to Redfern.
“There’s been four of them, they’ve been sidelined for a week, they’ve been told to just go away and their futures will be decided next week. I’ve got great empathy for those people,” Bennett said.
“That hasn’t happened here, there’s not one person told to go gardening, not one guy’s lost his job. When I was interviewed for the 2020 job, Shane Richardson told me that I couldn’t bring staff with me.
“I wanted to mention bringing staff, he got in first. He said they had a wonderful staff here, they were happy with them, they were all contracted, and I said, ‘That’s fine Shane, if that’s what you want, I don’t want someone losing their job because I’m turning up’.
“That’s how it’s panned out and it was a pleasure to work with them this morning, they’re good pros.”
Bennett was keen to avoid speculation there was bad blood between him and Seibold, who accused the veteran coach of “playing games”.
“I’m not here to discuss that today, I want to talk about South Sydney, that’s what I’ll do, that can wait for another day,” Bennett said.
Bennett was blunt when asked when that day might be.
“When I’m ready, I’m not ready yet,” he said.
You get the feeling the man who quite often says very little, still has plenty more to say.