Tinkler Sports Group executive chairman Ken Edwards remains hopeful of luring master coach Wayne Bennett to the Newcastle Knights next season.
Bennett, who will coach reigning champions St George Illawarra in tomorrow’s blockbuster clash with the Knights at Ausgrid Stadium, announced this week that he would be leaving the Dragons at the end of the season.
Despite strong speculation suggesting Bennett was poised to return to Brisbane to coach the Broncos, Edwards said Newcastle’s new owner Nathan Tinkler had not given up hope of signing the seven-time premiership winner.
Tinkler is rumoured to have offered Bennett an unprecedented $1.5million a season to join Newcastle and was reported to have renewed contact with him this week.
Bennett’s visit tomorrow sets up an intriguing showdown with Knights mentor Rick Stone, who is in the unusual position of coaching against the man who may be his boss next season.
Tinkler has assured Stone that he would be retained as assistant coach if Bennett agreed to join the Knights.
Alternatively, Edwards said if Bennett declined Tinkler’s deal Stone was the only other contender for the position.
Tinkler’s takeover, which was endorsed by Newcastle’s members at an extraordinary general meeting on Thursday, also raises the prospect of Kade Snowden rejoining his home-town club.
The Cronulla prop, who made his NRL debut with the Knights before leaving in 2007, reneged on signing a new deal with the Sharks after a personal approach from Tinkler.
Asked how Newcastle would fit Snowden into next year’s roster, given that props Antonio Kaufusi, Evarn Tuimavave, Richie Fa’aoso, Mark Taufua, Dan Tolar, Joel Edwards and Chris Houston are already under contract, Edwards replied, ‘‘One of the attractions of having Nathan involved is we hope to legitimately access third-party agreements the way some other clubs do.’’
Stone said he spoke to Tinkler yesterday morning and had been cleared to proceed with retention talks, which had been put on hold during the privatisation process.
Skipper Kurt Gidley and hooker Isaac De Gois are expected to re-sign with the Knights in the near future.