Wayne Bennett’s signing with the Knights has sparked a chain reaction that is tipped to result in NSW Origin hooker Michael Ennis returning to Newcastle next season and Michael Maguire appointed South Sydney coach within days.
On a dramatic day in rugby league, the Bulldogs also lost Blues centre Jamal Idris to the Gold Coast, with speculation that his shock decision to join the Titans on a five-year deal was partly due to the Knights’ inability to fit both him and Darius Boyd under the salary cap.
Boyd will follow Bennett from St George Illawarra to Newcastle next season, along with key members of the Dragons coaching staff, headed by high-performance manager Jeremy Hickmans.
The Dragons contingent, who all moved from Brisbane with Bennett in 2009, could be joined at the Knights by another former Bronco in Ennis. Canterbury last month announced the 27-year-old Newcastle junior had agreed to a contract extension for a further three seasons but it is believed he has a get-out clause.
Ennis left the Broncos at the same time as Bennett, and has a close relationship with the master coach from his three-year stint under him. It is understood he would have gone with Bennett had he chosen to return to Brisbane or to join Souths.
It is also understood Ennis is yet to sign his new deal with the Bulldogs, which was announced on March 1, but the contract means he can exercise a get-out clause by round 10 of this year’s competition.
Boyd is off-contract at St George Illawarrra, and the club is resigned to losing him after Bennett announced two weeks ago that he was leaving at the end of the season as the star fullback, who won the Clive Churchill Medal as man of the match in last year’s grand final, is considered a virtual package deal with the seven-time premiership winning coach.
Brisbane officials had Boyd earmarked as captain Darren Lockyer’s replacement at five-eighth until Bennett advised Broncos chief executive Paul White last Thursday night that he would not be returning to the club he guided to six grand final wins in 21 seasons as coach.
Whether Boyd will play fullback or five-eighth at Newcastle remains to be seen as Knights captain Kurt Gidley can also capably fill either role but many within the game see Boyd making a similar transition to the No.6 jersey as Lockyer.
The Knights have about 10 players off contract but it is unlikely the club could have signed both Boyd and Idris, who yesterday agreed to a five-year deal with the Titans worth more than $2 million.
Newcastle owner Nathan Tinkler also wants to sign Cronulla prop Kade Snowden, and the NSW Origin representative is expected to accept his offer following the mining magnate’s successful takeover of the club on March 30 and Bennett’s decision to coach the Knights until the end of the 2015 season.
Like Ennis, Snowden is a Newcastle junior, and Tinkler is keen to bring homegrown talent such as the Origin duo back to the club.
However, Bennett has never been one to show blind loyalty to any player, and those off contract at the Knights, including hooker Isaac De Gois, will now be anxious about their futures.
De Gois is believed to have all but agreed to terms for a new three-year deal with the Knights, but that was before Tinkler’s takeover.
Gidley is understood to have agreed to terms for a new four-year deal, while the club is expected to step up negotiations with New Zealand Test centre Junior Sa’u now that Idris has signed with the Titans.
Newcastle coach Rick Stone has been offered a role as Bennett’s assistant, although the 44-year-old, who played three first grade games for South Sydney in the club’s 1989 minor premiership-winning team, was yesterday linked with the Rabbitohs job. However, the Herald understands that Wigan coach Maguire has already agreed to take charge of the Rabbitohs, and an announcement is expected as soon as today.