No one was interested in him: Why Penrith rejected Wayne Bennett

The Penrith Panthers were so against a secret handshake deal that Phil Gould had struck for Wayne Bennett to coach the club, the board unanimously voted against him.

As Penrith this week prepare to square off against Bennett's Bunnies for a place in this year's grand final, the Panthers have revealed their reasons for choosing Ivan Cleary over the veteran coach and why they are vindicated by the decision.

The Panthers are more than happy with their decision to overlook Wayne Bennett for Ivan Cleary.Credit:Getty

"When I told the board that I had spoken to Ivan, we were all pretty comfortable to head in that direction but we did our due diligence and discussed what our other options could be," Panthers chairman Dave O'Neill told the Herald.

"I mentioned the Bennett deal that Gus had told me about and there wasn’t one board member who was interested at all. It was never going to get off the ground. We were pretty clear that Ivan was our man. We're happy with that decision."

Mid-way through 2018, when it had become clear to Panthers powerbrokers that Anthony Griffin's days as coach were numbered, the club began plotting for the following year.

Gould put aside his long-standing rivalry with Bennett to convince the seven-time premiership-winning coach to join the Panthers whenever his turbulent stint at the Broncos came to an end.

Eels coach Brad Arthur.Credit:Getty

Few would dispute what Arthur has managed to build at the Eels, assembling a roster that is capable of winning a premiership. But as the dust settles on the reality of their shortcomings, there remains a huge question mark over the mental fortitude of his team, and how much he has to evolve as a coach to harden a perceived soft underbelly.

The Eels sat down as a group six weeks ago and were shown vision of Nine commentator Phil Gould declaring they were "kidding themselves" if they thought they were a chance at winning the title.

"They just haven't got the underbelly, they haven't got it under the shirt," Gould said on 100% Footy. "I've looked at some of their second halves this year against quality sides – they've frittered away big leads."

The criticism stung, but six weeks later they did as Gould foreshadowed and surrendered an 18-8 half-time lead against the Rabbitohs at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday night to see their season slip away. They "capitulated", the coach said after the game.



Arthur tried to use the chorus of criticism surrounding his team to light a fire that would inspire a run for the title. Unfortunately, the run never came. Arthur, an old-school players' coach, has been afforded every opportunity to prove his way is the right way.

The club has backed him. But while his way isn't necessarily the wrong way, the club will now demand he works with head of football Mark O'Neill in the off-season to find a better way to ensure results improve in 2021.

Arthur has been somewhat reluctant to embrace the power of mindfulness when it comes to impacting results with the coach prioritising football matters over mental ones.

While the players all love playing under Arthur given how staunch he is in their support, there is a concern at the club and an understanding from the coach that mollycoddling the players may have only exacerbated a potential mental weakness.

Arthur has proved himself as a coach who can lead teams through adversity. He's now transformed into a coach who can produce regular finals appearances. The next step is there to be taken and while the club would love nothing more than to see him make it, the option of someone else doing so could become a reality if the Eels fail to capitalise on a premiership window that Arthur has helped force open.

The club recently handed Arthur a one year contract extension that sees him through until the end of 2022, but with Craig Bellamy, Trent Robinson and Wayne Bennett all off contract at the end of next season, don't expect the Eels to let an opportunity slip.

Nathan Brown took St George Illawarra to four finals appearances in five years between 2004 and 2008, failing to turn the opportunities into a grand final. It took Bennett's arrival for the club to finally shake the chokers' tag and end a 31-year drought in 2010. Parramatta now stand at 34 years and counting.

Who's the Origin greatest?

The Herald, in conjunction with Wide World of Sports and NRL.com, has launched the voting to decide the greatest team in Origin's 40 year history. The teams will be selected by a judging panel, which includes Andrew Johns, Wally Lewis, Johnathan Thurston and Brad Fittler.

The NSW team will be unveiled in the broadcast before Origin II, while the Queensland team will be announced prior to Origin III.

The fans also have the chance to vote for a team, which will be announced before Origin I. Voting is open to the public on the Wide World of Sports and NRL.com websites.

It comes as the Blues announced the newest members of their 27-man squad, with Brad Fittler adding skipper Boyd Cordner, Luke Keary, Angus Crichton, Daniel Tupou, James Tedesco, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Junior Paulo, Clint Gutherson and Nathan Brown.

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