There will be no fairytale reunion between Wayne Bennett and the Brisbane Broncos next season.
In a development that stun many the seven-time winning premiership coach has officially rejected the opportunity to return home.
Broncos officials will confirm Bennett’s decision this afternoon, at the same time announcing Anthony Griffin will remain as head coach beyond 2011.
The announcement means Bennett will now choose between South Sydney and Newcastle, pitching wealthy owners Russell Crowe and Nathan Tinkler into an intriguing head-to-head battle for his services.
The Broncos were widely considered the favourites to secure Bennett’s return but it is understood the opportunities at the Rabbitohs and Knights – not to mention the multi million-dollar salaries_ were compelling enough to convince him his future lay away from Brisbane.
Bennett had already announced he would leave St George Illawarra at the end of the season, having led the Dragons to their first premiership in more than 30 years. His seventh premiership – he won six while at the Broncos – made him the hottest property in rugby league.
It now opens the way for Bennett to claim an unprecedented three premierships with different clubs.
Today’s announcement will shock Brisbane supporters. For a long time, the Broncos loomed as short-priced favourites to secure his services – Bennett coached the club in its first 20 years of existence before parting ways with the Broncos at the end of 2008.
But recent stories which suggested the deal was already over the line, and a subsequent article in which Ivan Henjak outlined the reasons for his pre-season sacking, prompted concerns the return to Brisbane was in jeopardy.
Those fears have now come to fruition, leaving him to with a straight decision between one club owned by an Oscar-winning actor and another owned by a racing and mining magnate.
Both present unique challenges. The Rabbitohs, the early favourites to sign Bennett before Brisbane entered the race, have gone 40 years without a premiership. By leading Souths to a drought-breaking title, Bennett would seal his legendary status.
The Knights have a supporter base unlike any in rugby league.
At Newcastle, Bennett would also have access to Tinkler’s private jet, making it easier for him to return home to see his family, who still live in Brisbane.
He would also have Tinkler’s cheque book at his diposal. Tinkler, who took ownership of the club last week whe members accepted his privatisation bid, has already made his intentions clear, tabling huge offers for NSW State of Origin stars Kade Snowden and Jamal Idris.
The Broncos will be left to pick up the pieces, although they are fortunate to have Griffin to fill the breach.
The rookie coach has been handed one of the most prestigious jobs in Australian sport. So far, he has done a remarkably good job.
The Broncos, with one of the most talented squads in the competition, have won three of their opening four games since Griffin took charge.
It is understood Bennett also endorsed Griffin as the man to take the club forward and the Broncos have responded by handing him a contract until the end of 2013.