Bennett ready to take over Maroons
Should Kevin Walters walk away from State of Origin to start his NRL coaching career, Wayne Bennett is ready to return as Maroons coach, admitting, 'I've always had Queensland in my heart'. SUBSCRIBE NOW TO READ MORE.
In a bombshell development on the eve of the Origin decider this Wednesday night, Bennett says he is open to a Queensland comeback if Walters quits the Maroons to launch his NRL coaching career with the Titans.
QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher says his organisation is looking at a contingency plan in the event that Walters walks away from the Origin hot seat to rescue the embattled Gold Coast next season.
The Sunday Mail understands Titans coach Garth Brennan will not survive beyond this season as club culture chief Mal Meninga prepares to table a report to the Gold Coast board on July 15.
Walters is contracted to Queensland until the end of 2020, but there is a possibility the Origin III clash at Sydney's ANZ Stadium could be his final game in charge of the Maroons.
Should Walters step aside to chase his NRL dream with the Titans, the Maroons would require a swift replacement - and Bennett shapes as the saviour.
"The bottom line is I've always had Queensland in my heart," Bennett said.
"If the QRL feels I can play a role and if they want me to coach the Maroons, yes … I would seriously consider it.
"I've been a great supporter of Kevin Walters and he is the priority. He is currently contracted to Queensland and I want to be totally respectful to Kevin - it's his role until he decides otherwise.
"I haven't had any conversations with the QRL, but my life has been Queensland rugby league so if they want me to coach the team next year or beyond that, I will be available."
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Bennett's revelation is the first time he has spoken about returning for a fourth term as Queensland coach beyond his 70th birthday.
The super coach made his Origin debut in 1986, overcoming a series loss to lead the Maroons to a memorable 3-0 clean sweep two years later.
Bennett then had a one-year cameo as Queensland coach in 1998 before returning to save the Maroons in 2001 after they were humiliated 3-0 the previous season.
It was NSW's 56-16 rout in Game Three of 2000 that prompted Bennett to reach out to the Queensland government to set up the Emerging Origin program that produced Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk.
When Mal Meninga stood down as Maroons coach in 2015, the QRL privately sounded out Bennett.
With the veteran coach in his first season back at the Broncos, Bennett recommended his then assistant Walters, who won his first two Origin series in 2016-17.
"I always want to ensure Queensland rugby league is strong," Bennett said.
"I just love what State of Origin means to the people.
"It's still the greatest coaching job I've ever done. State of Origin touches your family and your friends and it means a lot to the Queensland people and you feel a great responsibility to do well.
"I came back to coach Queensland in 2001 because we lost the series badly the year before and the QRL asked me to come back, so I've done it before.
"It wasn't my preferred option to coach Queensland at the time, but Ross Livermore (former QRL CEO) approached me and I said yes because there was no one else at the time ready to take on the job.
"I ended up staying three years to help us get back on track and we put things in place that helped created the great 10-year dynasty under Mal Meninga.
"Bruce Hatcher hasn't approached me, but if he does, yes, I will consider coming back."
Bennett currently coaches South Sydney and the England national team. He might have to relinquish his British role to coach the Maroons, but is adamant it is possible to juggle NRL and Origin duties.
"There would be a few things to consider. I believe I could coach South Sydney and Queensland," he said.
"I've actually done it before in seven Origin series, so it's not something that I don't know how to handle.
"I have a great team of assistants at Souths including Jason Demetriou so I know I can trust the people around me to step up if I'm needed around Origin time.
"Juggling both roles is not something that would worry me."