Bennett won’t stand in Gagai’s way
AS South Sydney hosed down talk that Dane Gagai wanted to quit the club, Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett said the Queensland star can leave at the end of the season - if he really wants to.
Bennett's stance came as Titans culture-and-performance chief Mal Meninga on Wednesday night ruled out any notion of signing Gagai, insisting the club can't afford the Maroons flyer due to salary-cap constraints.
Bennett quickly moved to scupper suggestions Gagai wants out of Redfern, but insists he cannot guarantee the Test star a centre position and will consider a release if he is not happy playing on the wing.
The Souths super coach has paired new recruit James Roberts with Kyle Turner in the centres, pushing Gagai back to the wing for Saturday's clash against Penrith at ANZ Stadium.
"I've had a chat with Dane. I said, 'Mate, if you want to go, you can go at the end of the season'," Bennett said.
"The bottom line is Dane tells me he doesn't want to leave the club.
"He said, 'Coach I don't want to leave, I love it here'.
"I said, 'That's great 'Gags', you can stay, but you are going to have to play on the wing and if an opportunity comes up in the centres, I will put you there'.
"He said he was OK with that, he said he's good mates with 'Jimmy' (Roberts) and has nothing against him and will make it work.
"I'm fine with that.
"Dane is a wonderful player but I've told him I can't play him in the centres and if he really wants to play in the centres, then he can go at the end of the season.
"He was adamant he wanted to stay."
Former Souths coach Michael Maguire originally signed Gagai as a centre but Bennett has always viewed the 28-year-old as a superior winger.
That was illustrated in Origin I, when Gagai, situated on Queensland's right flank, took a superb intercept and streaked 95 metres to score the solo try that broke NSW's spirit in his side's 18-14 win.
It is understood in pre-season Gagai told Bennett he wanted to play centre upon the veteran coach's arrival from the Broncos.
Greg Inglis' shock retirement enabled Gagai to play 10 consecutive games in the No.4 jumper, but Roberts' signing has created fresh competition that will intensify when Braidon Burns returns from injury.
If Gagai wants to finish his career as a centre, he may have to look elsewhere, but Bennett is reluctant to lose the speedy matchwinner.
"I'm not pushing Dane out," he said.
"I didn't start this, I value him highly. He is a wonderful player, but in our squad he is best suited as a winger."
Gagai has been linked with the Titans but Meninga said he won't be at the Gold Coast.
"I don't know where the rumours are coming from," he said. "We haven't got the finances to afford Dane, as great a player as he is."