Wayne Bennett locks in three-year deal with Souths as NRL greats' Parramatta theory rejected

Bennett confirmed he has signed a three-year deal at South Sydney.

The Wayne Bennett coaching saga is officially over, with the veteran coach confirming he has signed a three-year deal at South Sydney. Bennett coached the Bunnies from 2019 to 2021 when the side made two preliminary finals and the 2021 grand final. And on Tuesday the 74-year-old coach said he will return to Redfern in 2025 as he has unfinished business at the NRL's oldest club.

Bennett will leave the Dolphins at the end of the season, handing over the reins to assistant coach Kristian Woolf. He will then head to the Rabbitohs, with a focus on turning around their recent struggles.

"I am going back to Souths for three years," Bennett told AAP on Tuesday. "I like the people there and I like the club and what it stands for.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 30: Wayne Bennett head coach of the Dolphins speaks to the media during the round four NRL match between Gold Coast Titans and Dolphins at Cbus Super Stadium, on March 30, 2024, in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Wayne Bennett has confirmed he has signed a three-year deal at South Sydney.

"I know a number of the players. There is some good talent there and we can do something. I just want to get back there and I like that part of Sydney as well. It is easy to live there."

Bennett stated that success starts in the front office and that his close relationship with CEO Blake Solly and chairman Nick Pappas was key in convincing him to join the Bunnies for 2025 on a three-year-deal. "I have a good rapport with everybody there," he said. "I had a great three years there and I am looking forward to going back."

His Souths confirmation comes hours after Braith Anasta floated the theory that he may still be in the running for the Eels job. Anasta said the Eels must think they are a chance of snagging Bennett before he signs on the dotted line with the Rabbitohs or else they wouldn't have dismissed their coach with immediate effect.

Reports emerged on Monday that the Eels have been trying to sign Bennett as coach for almost three weeks, and despite failing so far to do so, they still opted to sack Arthur on the back of a 48-16 defeat to the Storm. The 49-year-old had been at the Eels helm since 2014 and took the club to the grand final in 2022 where they lost to Penrith.

Pictured L-R: Braith Anasta, Wayne Bennett, Brad Arthur
Braith Anasta said something doesn't add up with Parramatta's decision to sack Brad Arthur. Image: Getty

But Arthur failed to win a premiership in a decade at the Eels and with the club languishing in 14th on the ladder with three wins from 10 games in 2024, the board had seen enough, dismissing him on Monday. "It was the view of the board and CEO that the progress of our NRL team has stalled," the Eels said in a statement on Monday. "Our goal is to win premierships and it is time for the club to go in a new direction."

Trent Barrett will take over as interim head coach until the end of the 2024 season as the Eels look to find a permanent replacement for Arthur. "We want to thank Brad, who has worked tirelessly for the club over a 10-year period," the Eels added.

"During his time as head coach, the club has played in five finals series, including a grand final in 2022. We wish Brad and his family the very best in the future and we are very grateful for his services to the club."

But both Anasta and James Graham thought there must be more going on at Parramatta than meets the eye. With the way things unfolded on Monday, the pair believed that it could point to Bennett's Souths deal not being as much of a formality as previously thought.

The Eels' admission of failing in their efforts to sign Bennett was strange, as was Parramatta's sudden announcement of Arthur's exit, and the former NRL players believe there is plenty more to play out in the coming days. Bennett reportedly told Eels chairman Sean McElduff and CEO Jim Sarantinos that he is committed to returning to South Sydney even if Arthur was about to be sacked, according to The Courier-Mail's Pete Badel. "I called him on the second of May, and he said, ‘I’m a fair way down the track with the Rabbitohs’," McElduff told SMH.


"‘I know the club, I know the players and I feel like I have unfinished business there’. For the last 18 days, I’ve been trying to flip him. At the end of the day, he wants to be at the Rabbitohs. You can understand why. I made a trip up to Queensland with Jim to see him. We had numerous other conversations. I tried hard but we didn’t get there. To be perfectly honest, he was always going to the Rabbitohs."

But Graham thought his move to Souths may not have been a done deal. "With today’s announcement, a couple of things really alert me here," Graham told NRL 360 on Monday. "The fact that Parramatta have admitted to the fact that they are talking to Wayne for three weeks and they made the call to move Brad Arthur on the 1st of May, so why announce it today, why not tomorrow after you’ve addressed the playing group in person?"

WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 15: James Graham of the Dragons reacts during the round 1 NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Wests Tigers at WIN Stadium on March 15, 2020 in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)
James Graham believes Wayne Bennett could still be convinced to join Parramatta.

Anasta formed a similar belief and said in his opinion the Eels were still in the race for Bennett at the time of Arthur's dismissal. "I think they are throwing the kitchen sink at him as we speak. I don't think it’s over," Anasta added.

"I think they are making a last-ditch effort, that’s why they are making the call today not to disrespect Brad, he’s done, but now they are going to try and secure Wayne and Souths are nervous. And they should be."

with AAP