Back to the burrow: Rabbitohs name Bennett as their target to be new coach

South Sydney hope it will only be a matter of weeks before they appoint Jason Demetriou’s successor, and they have identified ex-coach Wayne Bennett as their first-choice target.

May 01, 2024, updated May 01, 2024
Queensland coach Wayne Bennett is seen talking to the media during the Queensland Maroons team training session at CBus Stadium on the Gold Coast. (AAP Image/Darren England)

Queensland coach Wayne Bennett is seen talking to the media during the Queensland Maroons team training session at CBus Stadium on the Gold Coast. (AAP Image/Darren England)

The last-placed Rabbitohs fired third-year coach Demetriou on Tuesday after the side lost six of its first seven games this season, having also capitulated from finals contention in 2023.

Demetriou’s axing followed weeks of speculation about his future at the perennial heavyweights, and sets the stage for what chief executive Blake Solly called an “exhaustive process” to find a replacement for 2025.

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

He said the Rabbitohs’ ideal candidate will have both first-grade coaching experience and the ability to manage a “unique playing group”.

South Sydney is home to some of the NRL’s biggest personalities, including superstar fullback Latrell Mitchell, and Demetriou’s management of his star talent was scrutinised late in the 2023 season.

Demetriou’s former right-hand man Ben Hornby, interim coach for Thursday’s clash with Penrith and the rest of 2024, appears unlikely to be considered as a full-time option for next season.

“(The new head coach) will be experienced, they don’t necessarily have to be experienced coaching in the NRL,” Solly said.

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

Wayne Bennett
Veteran coach Wayne Bennett is already in the frame to return to the Rabbitohs, who he left in 2021. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)
Bennett had been linked with a return to the Rabbitohs for weeks amid the side’s on-field downturn.

The seven-time premiership winner was Demetriou’s predecessor at Souths, guiding the side to the 2021 grand final in the last of his three seasons in charge.

The core of the Rabbitohs’ current roster was on the books during Bennett’s tenure, and the 74-year-old is due to step down from his role in charge of the Dolphins at the season’s end.

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

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

“Wayne had great success here, left the club on very good terms. We’ll speak to Wayne and if he’s available and interested, certainly we’ll progress that,” Solly told reporters.

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

“He was great while he was here. 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 stars Mitchell and five-eighth Cody Walker was worthy of “strong consideration” as the pair endure miserable individual campaigns.

Burgess, though, is unlikely to make his own fairytale return to Souths in 2025.

The legendary Rabbitohs forward had been an assistant to both Bennett and Demetriou, but left last season, reportedly unhappy with Demetriou giving preferential treatment to Walker and Mitchell.

Demetriou denied those claims at the time and Burgess is now coaching English side Warrington on a 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.”


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