‘Top of the list’: Bennett keen to hear from Souths

Jasper Bruce and Joel Gould |

Jason Demetriou leaves Rabbitohs’ Maroubra headquarters as their head coach for the last time.
Jason Demetriou leaves Rabbitohs’ Maroubra headquarters as their head coach for the last time.

Wayne Bennett has confirmed he is interested in a fairytale return to the Rabbitohs, as South Sydney go all-in on pursuing the seven-time NRL premiership-winning coach.

Souths chief executive Blake Solly has indicated Bennett sits “top of the list” of potential successors to Jason Demetriou, who was sacked on Tuesday following 12 months of poor results.

Chief operating officer Brock Schaefer was on Wednesday reported to have chosen to follow Demetriou out of the door after nearly a decade at the club.

The Rabbitohs are hoping to appoint a new coach for 2025 in a matter of weeks and have pledged an “exhaustive process” to find an experienced campaigner.

“We’ll take as long as it needs, but we’d probably prefer to have it done in weeks, not months,” Solly said on Wednesday.

“(The new head coach) will be experienced. They don’t necessarily have to be experienced coaching in the NRL.

“(But) we’re not going to go with a coach who hasn’t coached first-team football before.”

Bennett was Demetriou’s predecessor, guiding the Rabbitohs to a narrow grand final loss against Penrith in 2021 – his last season in charge.

Wayne Bennett during his time as South Sydney coach.
Bennett took the Rabbitohs to the grand final in 2021. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

The core of the club’s current roster were on the books during Bennett’s three seasons at Souths, all of which stretched to at least the preliminary finals.

The 74-year-old is due to step down at the Dolphins at the end of the season.

AAP understands Bennett informed the Dolphins on Wednesday he was interested in speaking to the Rabbitohs.

Long-time Souths assistant Ben Hornby, interim coach for Thursday’s clash with Penrith and the rest of 2024, appears unlikely to be considered.

Ex-Wallabies boss Michael Cheika, Souths’ most-recent premiership-winning coach Michael Maguire and Super League guru Steve McNamara have all been floated as other options.

But speaking on 2GB, Solly said Bennett was “top of the list” of prospective hires, though the club had yet to make a formal approach.

Jason Demetriou on his last day at Souths.
Jason Demetriou was on Tuesday relieved of his duties at Souths. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

“Wayne had great success here, left the club on very good terms,” Solly told reporters on Wednesday. 

“We’ll speak to Wayne and if he’s available and interested, certainly we’ll progress that.

“He left the place in very good shape when he left. 

“He got us through some really difficult times during COVID, a bit of a restructure of the playing group when John (Sutton) and Greg (Inglis) and Sam (Burgess) retired. 

“He was a pleasure to work with.”

Solly said Bennett’s proven ability to get the best out of fullback Latrell Mitchell and five-eighth Cody Walker made him worthy of strong consideration.

The star pair are enduring miserable individual campaigns.

Blake Solly
The Rabbitohs will undertake an “exhaustive process” to find a new coach, CEO Blake Solly says. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

Solly acknowledged the Rabbitohs had a “unique playing group” that required careful management.

An assistant under Bennett and Demetriou, Burgess looks unlikely to make a return to Souths in 2025.

The legendary Rabbitohs forward left the club last season amid reports of a falling out with Demetriou over perceived preferential treatment for Walker and Mitchell.

He is now coaching English side Warrington, with his contract due to expire at the end of 2025.

“We wouldn’t want to disrupt that,” Solly said.

“My view is that (Warrington) is Sam’s opportunity to show the world that he can coach. We wish him every success with that.”