Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett has denied claims surrounding a handshake deal made with Phil Gould to join the Panthers after he was sacked by the Broncos.
Penrith chairman Dave O’Neill revealed this week that “there wasn’t one board member who was interested at all” in the supercoach.
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Gould approached O’Neil to inform him that he and Bennett had “reached an understanding”, per Fox Sports.
The Panthers soon signed Ivan Cleary instead, a move that has seemingly paid off as they eye a 17th consecutive win in this weekend’s preliminary final against South Sydney.
Bennett has spoken out on the matter to The Courier-Mail, denying that there was ever a handshake deal in place.
“That is absolute garbage,” Bennett said.
“I have never looked at going to Penrith.
“There was a lot of talk around my future during that time at the Broncos when I was sacked (in December 2018). I have never met Dave O’Neill … I wouldn’t know him if he walked past me tomorrow.”
“I have never spoken to one person at Penrith. I never had one phone call from them. I didn’t talk to Gus Gould … no one,” he said.
“If Phil Gould wanted me, I would have no idea. I was never privy to one thing.”
Bennett claimed that the only other club he considered going to was Wests Tigers, who offered him a three-year deal.
“The truth is this; the only team that I ever talked to was the Wests Tigers.
“There was a three-year deal with them on offer and I would have done the deal with the Tigers if the Broncos were upfront with me and told me they were going to sack me for 2019.
“I gave my word I was staying at the Broncos and I intended to honour my final 12 months, so that’s why I knocked back the Tigers.
“I never chased the Penrith job. I have been associated and linked with every club. Apparently I was going to New Zealand earlier this year. I’ve always said I was happy at Souths and I would honour my contract at Souths and here I am.”
According to Fox League’s Yvonne Sampson, Bennett is lying.
Sampson strongly believes that a meeting between Bennett and Gould took place and shook hands on a deal to commit to Penrith, with Gould as her source.
“Wayne ‘Pinocchio’ Bennett is fibbing that he never agreed to go to Penrith in the first place when he was on the skids at the Broncos back in 2018,” Sampson told Big Sports Breakfast.
“Phil Gould told me at the time that he had spoken to Wayne, they’d met and that they shook on a deal.
“Unbeknownst to Gus at the time, their chairman Dave O’Neill happened to run into Ivan Cleary at the Northern Beaches and said ‘would you ever come back?’ and Ivan said ‘yeah, I might think about it’.
“When both Gus and Dave got back to the Panthers HQ, both of them thought they had the solution but as we know it turned out to be Ivan.
“Wayne is definitely fibbing. He had committed to the Panthers.”
Bennett will face Cleary on Saturday night, with the winner moving onto the Grand Final next week.