Wayne Bennett points the way for the Dolphins.
Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett is being heavily linked with a return to former club South Sydney. Image by Jason O'BRIEN/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

Bennett’s magic dust ‘could lift Souths to NRL title’

Scott Bailey May 9, 2024

The ingredients are in place for Wayne Bennett to become a premiership-winning coach at three different NRL clubs if he returns to South Sydney, Damien Cook says.

Bennett is all but certain to head back to the Rabbitohs next year, keeping alive the prospect of the 74-year-old winning a record-breaking title at a third NRL club.

The current Dolphins mentor has already won premierships with Brisbane and St George Illawarra, and is one shy of joining Arthur Halloway as an eight-time premiership winner.

No coach in the game’s history has won premierships at three separate clubs.

Wayne Bennett after winning the grand final with the Dragons in 2010.
 Bennett (centre) celebrates 2010 grand final success with St George Illawarra. Image by Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS 

With an aging roster at the top end in South Sydney, there is an argument Bennett’s best chance of achieving that goal could come elsewhere if another job opens up.

But No.9 Cook was adamant the last-placed Rabbitohs have the cattle to return to the top of the NRL.

“We definitely can,” Cook told AAP at the ticket launch of next week’s Beer, Footy and Food Festival at North Sydney Oval.

“Because the squad is all still there. And at the moment, there’s not a lot of luck on our side.

“We’re not making our own luck, and when it rains it pours.

“But it will turn. If you look at our best 17, we haven’t had a chance to really play that team due to injuries.”

Cook’s point is underlined by the fact that this time last year the Rabbitohs sat first on the NRL ladder and looked genuine premiership contenders.

The collapse that has followed has been one of the greatest in the sport’s history, with Souths missing the 2023 finals and last week sacking coach Jason Demetriou.

Half of their squad is unavailable this week through injury or suspension, with Cook labelling it an “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry situation”.

If Bennett does return to South Sydney, he is likely to find 12 players remaining from his 2021 squad that made the grand final.

Cook has no doubt the 74-year-old’s ‘magic dust’ would still produce results.

Wayne Bennett takes training at South Sydney.
 Plenty of players remain from Bennett’s first stint in charge at the Rabbitohs. Image by Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS 

“It works everywhere he goes,” Cook said. “The Dolphins, it’s working there at the moment.

“There are players on the field that have that presence and aura about them: he’s that coach.”

Cook has come under scrutiny this season, at one point dropped back to reserve grade by Demetriou.

The hooker said it was hard to evaluate his own form given Souths’ run of losses, while he has also battled calf and rib issues.

Contracted until the end of next year, the 32-year-old insisted he could still reach the levels he had when at his best.

“I’ve had a couple of injuries, but I’ve actually been building well,” Cook said.

“Decision making down the line has been good. Defence has been getting better each week.

“I definitely can (find my best). I was feeling the fittest and strongest I have ever been in the pre-season.

“Body wise, I’m feeling good. I’ve still got all the confidence, I still love the game and I still want to keep trying to improve.”