Wayne Bennett was all smiles at his first press conference as head of the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Tuesday.
“I had a look at the mirror when I put the shirt on and it looked ok, so I kept going,” he quipped.
“It has been a long time coming for me I was nearly here seven years ago and it didn’t happen, but I’m please to be here today.”
After his first training run at Redfern Oval, the wry-smiling Bennett sensationally claimed he was “happy to be sacked” by the Broncos hierarchy and had a “clear conscience” over his part in the early coach swap with Anthony Seibold.
“It was never part of the plans to come here early. I agreed to come here in 2020, so it was never on the agenda,” he said.
“There was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that I wasn’t privy to,” he said.
“I’m pleased to be here and I’m pleased that I came here on my own terms in that I didn’t have to leave the Broncos, I was sacked….I’ve got a clear conscience.”
He said he was determined to stay until the end of the 2019 season because of his team, who he revealed haven’t been part of the conversation with Souths general manager of football Shane Richardson.
“There are guys up there that have been told to go gardening for a week. There are four of them that have been sidelined for a week and have been told to go away and their futures will be decided next week,” he said.
“I have great empathy for those people and that hasn’t happened here.
“There is not one person that has been told to go gardening and not one guy has lost his job.”
Asked whether he said goodbye to his players, he said, “You don’t get the chance to say goodbye to anyone when they sack you and ask you to leave the building.”
He also denied poaching players in the past, and suggested he wouldn’t actively be looking to entice former players to South Sydney.
“If you look at the players that left the Broncos the last time the one player that followed me was Darius Boyd because the club didn’t want him,” Bennett said.
“So I don’t have a history of taking players out of the Broncos and that is not going to happen now.
“If somebody wants to come that’s fine, but outside of that they have a good club there and good people around them so if they are happy with their environment and their families are that’s more important.”
He did admit to speaking with Souths players “on the request” of Richardson, but said that was done with an eye on the 2020 season and beyond.
“I did speak to players on the request of Shane Richardson because there were players under contract that they wanted to keep here and I was going to be a long term coach here from 2020,” he said.
“I called Alex Johnston in this particular case because he was being chased by clubs in the middle of his contract and Souths weren’t keen to lose him, so that was purely what discussions were about.”
Bennett revealed he wants Damien Cook to stay at Redfern, and the club is “optimistic” he’ll extend soon.
Bennett was asked about the now highly anticipated clash with the Broncos in round eight, and he shrugged it off, saying it wasn’t “personal for the players”.
“You guys make a big deal of it, but it won’t be a big deal to me to come up against the Broncos,” he replied.
“I will just focus on how we play on the day and do the best we can. It is not personal for the players so I’m not going to bring my baggage into their lives.”
The super-coach is thrilled with the facilities and staff at the Rabbitohs, and was gushing in his praise of Greg Inglis and his English charge Sam Burgess, with whom he has a “great rapport”.
The 68-year-old received a “nice message” from Souths owner Russell Crowe, and in another swipe at his former club, and in particular CEO Paul White, he said he now has the support in key positions to “enjoy what I’m doing”.
Club veteran John Sutton had only met Bennett this morning, but was excited about playing under the six-time premiership winning coach.
Burgess, who presented Bennett with his membership card, said the players were ready to move on from the drawn out turmoil and ramp up preparations for the 2019 season.
Published by Joe McDonough, 4 December 2018 on foxsports.com.au