The ‘perfect option’ as Brisbane gears up for second team
Wayne Bennett has declared he is open to a return home to lead a prospective second Brisbane team in a move that would put the super coach on a spicy collision course with the Broncos club that sacked him.
News Corp can reveal the Brisbane Bombers consortium has sounded out Bennett to be their foundation coach as the ARL Commission prepare for a meeting to explore expanding the NRL to 17 teams.
The ARLC will gather on Wednesday week to begin due diligence on the merits of expansion. With ARLC chairman Peter V'landys and new commissioner Kate Jones both backing expansion, there is a high-level sentiment the NRL will have 17 teams - and a second Brisbane club to rival the Broncos - in 2022 or 2023.
Kayo is your ticket to the best sport streaming Live & On-Demand. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
Now the code's greatest coach has entered the expansion race, with Bennett confirming his interest in setting up the Bombers or Redcliffe Dolphins as the NRL look to create a Brisbane rivalry with the Broncos.
A fortnight ago, the Bombers held talks with a third-party associate acting on behalf of Bennett.
The master coach will finish up as head coach at Souths next year before handing the reins to his assistant Jason Demetriou for the 2022 season.
And while the Rabbitohs have flagged Bennett staying on in a consultancy role, the triumphant Queensland Origin mentor is ready to coach a second Brisbane team - more than three decades after he spearheaded the birth of the Broncos.
The prospect of Bennett taking on the Broncos would be an explosive narrative given the bitter Red Hill civil war which led to his sacking in December 2018. He will celebrate his 73rd birthday in 2023 and says he has the mental and physical drive to take charge of a second Brisbane team.
"I will be available to any prospective Brisbane team," Bennett told News Corp in the wake of leading Queensland to a famous Origin series win on Wednesday night.
"Souths have intimated to me they are keen to keep me on in some capacity in 2022.
"I have really enjoyed my time at Souths, I have one year to go and I want to make it the best year I possibly can for them and myself.
"But if I want to continue coaching, then I will look at my options.
"I certainly haven't put a deadline on my coaching career.
"Other people have tried to do it, but they have been proven wrong before, so I'll see what happens beyond next year."
The Bombers initially targeted Bennett's former Broncos assistant Craig Bellamy, holding talks with the Storm super coach last December.
But with the Broncos attempting to poach Bellamy after approaching him for a fourth time eight weeks ago, the Bombers have a contingency plan in Bennett if the Melbourne mentor defects to Red Hill.
In February, Bennett backed Redcliffe's proposal to enter the NRL. The 70-year-old has not forgiven Brisbane bosses for suggesting he was past his best and his gravitas as a seven-time premiership-winner would create an instant rivalry with the Broncos.
Regardless of any bad blood with the Broncos, Bennett insists the Brisbane market is ready for a second team, be it the Bombers, Redcliffe, Ipswich's western corridor or the Easts Tigers-backed Firehawks.
"Brisbane is now ready for expansion," he said.
"The Broncos should not fear expansion. The bottom line is they have a 34-year headstart on a new team.
"If they can't protect their product with a 34-year headstart ... it's ridiculous to think their brand could be threatened.
"They shouldn't be afraid of a second Brisbane team.
"The Broncos' biggest crowds in 1995 were when the Crushers played the Broncos and they were great games. The Crushers didn't have the quality of players that we had at the Broncos, but as coach, I lived it at the time and the Crushers were a nightmare for us to play.
"Brisbane needs an NRL rivalry. Throw in the Titans and we would see some great crowds."
Bennett explained why he is a serious option to be the poster boy for a second Brisbane team.
"I know what it takes to set up a new club," he said.
"I am the only coach who has set up a foundation club that is still coaching. I do know what it takes. I know the pitfalls, I know what we built the Broncos on and I would use that blueprint for any new Brisbane team because I know it works.
"We did it very successfully at the Broncos for 20 or so years.
"The reality of the situation is we can't have 18 teams because it would deplete the competition of a lot of players and the standard of football would not be as good.
"Look at what's happened with the AFL. They will never come out publicly and say it, but they have added two teams to their competition and the standard has dropped. There are only so many players to go around in our population.
"One more team in the NRL is ideal and we could go to 17 without having too much of an impact on the existing clubs. There's quite a few guys who go to England because the salary-cap squeezes them on, so if you kept a few guys in Australia that would help.
"Ideally, I would also like to see teams in Perth and Wellington, but unless someone relocates, I can't see those markets getting a team for 30 years because the eyeballs won't be there.
"The other thing I like is that with 17 teams, every team would get a bye weekend at some stage. The competition is so intense these days that giving teams a week off will help all the players.
"We need to consider the income and the television rights and what they can generate.
"No current team wants to go backwards (financially) which I understand, so Brisbane is the place to expand because there's only one team, it has the population and it's rugby league heartland."
Brisbane Bombers director Nick Livermore confirmed his consortium's interest in Bennett.
"We've had talks with Craig Bellamy previously and he was our primary target, but since that time he has had interest from the Broncos and if Craig wasn't available, then Wayne is certainly on our radar," he said.
"The prospect of Wayne taking on the Broncos would create an instant rivalry for the NRL.
"Wayne just inspires players. Culture is everything and Wayne's performance with the Queensland team this year showed that.
"Wayne brings not only the cultural side of things, he brings saleability. What Wayne has proven over 40 years in rugby league is that he still has pulling power.
"He is 70 years old but he understands the fabric of the game, he knows how to pull a team together and he can attract players because they know he has the runs on the board.
"If we were able to get an NRL licence, we just want to get the best coach and if Craig Bellamy isn't available, then Wayne Bennett is the perfect option."
Originally published as The 'perfect option' as Brisbane gears up for second team