KIERSTEN DUKE: Brad Arthur’s tears after Parramatta Eels sacking show his class and Bennett’s Souths deal

Kiersten Duke
The Nightly
4 Min Read
The veteran coach was sacked by the Eels after 264 games.

Shock decisions often happen in sport and as a fan, you expect the unexpected.

But when I nearly fell off my chair when hearing about the sacking of Eels coach Brad Arthurs, I’m not being dramatic… for once.

Granted the Eels have been struggling, but they’re not without excuses.

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Dylan Brown’s stupidity during 2023 and was costly and this year they lost their two biggest game players, Mitch Moses and Clint Gutherson to injuries.

When someone like Moses, who touches the ball more than most during a game is on the sidelines, it’s going to have a significant knock-on effect. An affect that quite frankly would be incredibly tough to coach around.

When learning the news that Parra were saying “bye bye Brad”, I did a little digging to see if my shock response was unwarranted. But the stats backed me.

Prior to Arthur taking over in 2014, the Eels finished in 16th place for the second year in a row.

Arthur took the Eels’ winning percentage from 23.8 per cent to 51.7 per cent.

That was, and still is, the highest winning percentage they’ve had as a team since Jason Taylor was coach in 2006.

Arthur took a team who was in desperate need of a shake up and delivered in spades, taking them to the grand final against the unstoppable Panthers in 2022.

To say he can walk away with his head held high is an understatement.

He handled the news of being let go in the same way he seems to handle most things, with class.

Only learning about the news on Monday afternoon despite the club admitting they’d been pursuing Wayne Bennett for the past three weeks, Brad did the rounds on TV - his 50th birthday – where he assured Eels fans he doesn’t “hold any resentment” and he is “not bitter”.

At one point he broke down in tears when thanking his wife Michell for all her support and sacrifice.

You’re a gentleman Brad. Oh, and I’m a very nervous for whoever must fill your shoes!

Arthur’s sacking was not the only big NRL coaches story this week with Bennett finally inking his deal to return to Souths.

Welcome home Uncle Wayne! Rabbitohs fans (me included) are thrilled by the three-year deal worth a whopping $3 million.

Currently in wooden spoon position, South’s have been wishing for a miracle, a miracle that has come in the form of a 74-year-old, seven-time premiership winning coach who will be keen to inject some much needed spark into the team at Heffron Park.

In 2018 Anthony Seibold coached South Sydney to third place in the premiership, before Wayne Bennett stepped in from 2019- 2021 and maintained that momentum.

Since moving to Australia eight years ago, I’ve witnessed Bennett’s fantastic ability to turn a team of “almost grand final contenders” to “genuine grand final contenders”.

But, when you consider the roster of players he had to tinker with during those three years at Souths and compare them to what he will have going into the 2025 season, he’ll most certainly have his work cut out.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 18: Cody Walker of the Rabbitohs looks dejected during the round 11 NRL match between South Sydney Rabbitohs and North Queensland Cowboys at Suncorp Stadium, on May 18, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Cody Walker was at his best under Wayne Bennett. Credit: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Captained by Adam Reynolds, the team Bennet coached half a decade ago also boasted a much younger Cody Walker, Alex Johnston and Damien Cook who were at the peak of their powers.

Will Bennett have a genuine top-eight team in 2025? Well, with the likes of Campbell Graham back after missing most of the 2024 season and Jai Arrow likely sporting a new shoulder, I think it would be hard to argue against the Rabbitohs legitimately finishing in the top eight. Grand final competitors though? That’s magic that I’m not sure even Wayne Bennett could conjure.

With his good mate Sam Burgess over in the UK, who knows what sort of deals and ideas Bennett could make. Watch this space.

“I’ll go out and sell tickets at train stations all day, every day” to get Magic Round in Sydney Phil Gould said. I will too Gus.

But it looks like our dreams of having Magic Round in Sydney will have to be put on ice with Brisbane to continue hosting the coveted round until at least 2027.

Considering this Magic Round was the most attended in history, with over 140,000 fans going through the gates. I’m not surprised.

The event was sold out in a record three days and over 40 per cent of ticket holders were from outside of Brisbane.

It shows that rugby league is a spectacle fans will more than happily travel to watch - with some even choosing it as their honeymoon destination such as my Sky Racing colleague Brodie Nickson.

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