Penrith chairman Dave O’Neill has revealed that the board voted “unanimously” against the appointment of Wayne Bennett as their head coach in 2018.
O’Neill told the Sydney Morning Herald that the board were vehemently opposed against the under-the-table deal that general manager Phil Gould had struck with Bennett as they had their minds set on bringing Ivan Cleary back to the club.
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“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,” O’Neill said.
“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.”
When Anthony Griffin’s sacking in 2018 became a matter of time, the Panther’s top brass began searching for a new head coach.
With this, Gould approached Bennett, asking for him to join the Panthers once his time in Brisbane finished.
But the Penrith board turned their noses up at the deal when it was posed to them, with not one member agreeing with Gould’s decision, instead opting to sign Ivan Cleary on a $5 million five year deal.
“We copped a lot of flak for signing Ivan last year, but we did so on a five-year deal knowing that he was the right man for us,” O’Neill said.
“He had a connection with the place and knew what Penrith was about. Wayne Bennett is a fantastic coach but he wouldn’t have known the first thing about Penrith.”
Cleary and Bennett will clash this week in a preliminary final between Penrith and the Bunnies, with the winner either facing the Storm or the Raiders.
In recent times, Cleary has got the better of Bennett by winning their last two showdowns, but historically the seven-time-premiership coach has won 14 of his 20 total matchups against each Cleary-coached teams.