'We wanted Wayne': Eels left at altar by Bennett

George Clarke
Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett has turned down Parramatta for a return to Redfern in 2025. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)
Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett has turned down Parramatta for a return to Redfern in 2025. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Parramatta insist they are in no rush to find a head coach to replace Brad Arthur after the Eels’ clandestine pitch to snatch Wayne Bennett ended with the supercoach re-joining South Sydney.

After Bennett announced his return to the Rabbitohs for 2025 on Tuesday, the Eels will be forced to scour the market for an alternative head coach to end the NRL’s longest-running premiership drought.

Whoever is tasked with the Parramatta job next season will be charged with fine-tuning an ageing roster that was loyal to Arthur and is littered with big personalities.

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Chief executive Jim Sarantinos said on Tuesday - less than 24 hours after Arthur’s decade-long reign ended - that the club had already begun compiling a list of prospective candidates for the role.

NSW State of Origin coach Michael Maguire as well as several well-credentialed assistants such as Jason Ryles (Melbourne) and Josh Hannay (Cronulla) are likely to be linked to the Eels job.

“We’ll be looking for what we think is the best coach for our club,” Sarantinos said.

“We think we’ve still got a really strong roster and we think we’ve got a roster that will appeal to any incoming coach.

“We want someone who’s been involved with a winning program, and someone who’s been around a high-performing culture.

“So whether that be an experienced coach, or someone who might be picking up their first opportunity as a head coach, we will identify who we think is best for our club.”

Sarantinos, however, cautioned that the incoming coach would not have total control of the club’s roster.

The Eels’ recruitment and retention had been a major talking point during Arthur’s tenure, with the club’s failure to retain several key players who helped them to the 2022 grand final seen as a trigger for Parramatta’s slide down the NRL ladder.

“We have a roster management committee, Brad played a key part in that and he was the strongest voice,” Sarantinos said.

“We’re very comfortable with the say that Brad had on recruitment.”

Trent Barrett will take charge of the Eels until the end of the season but it is unclear if he would want to return to a head coaching role after failed stints at Canterbury and Manly.

The Eels are also adamant that they will take their time after privately pursuing Bennett in the three weeks prior to Arthur’s axing, only to be left high and dry.

Sarantinos and chairman Sean McElduff travelled to Queensland to meet Bennett without Arthur’s knowledge.

Talks with Bennett were under wraps, only for the 74-year-old coach to rebuff their advances and commit to the Bunnies.

“We wanted Wayne Bennett, it’s as simple as that and we spent the best part of three weeks trying to convince him to come,” McElduff said on Tuesday.

“He was interested, we put our proposition to him and he was genuinely interested but I think he felt strongly with his connection to the Rabbitohs.

“We didn’t make a decision on our head coach until May 1 and we didn’t approach Wayne until May 2 ... but I think through the whole process we were behind the eight ball.”

The Eels (3-7) sit 14th and, in a cruel twist after news of Bennett’s decision, face South Sydney on Saturday.

Captain Clint Gutherson and halfback Mitchell Moses remain sidelined with injury and were not named by Barrett.


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