How Parramatta botched their NRL pursuit of Wayne Bennett and handed him to South Sydney

The master-coach has rejected the Eels to take up a three-year deal with the Rabbitohs.

If you invited Parramatta to a New Year's Eve party, they'd rock up in March. Their desperate pursuit of Wayne Bennett as a replacement for Brad Arthur was like trying to get on the Melbourne Cup winner 100m out from the winning post.

The veteran coach was always headed back to Souths but entertained Eels bosses anyway, guessing he didn’t have much to lose by meeting them while also buying himself a little bit more leverage with the Rabbitohs. Bennett was impressed with Parramatta's presentation but there was only one problem – their offer came long after the expiry date.

Wayne Bennett and Brad Arthur.
Parramatta botched their attempt to sign Wayne Bennett, and ended up sacking Brad Arthur anyway.

Arthur was on shaky ground way before his axing on Monday afternoon. A grand final appearance in 2022 had parlayed into a poor 2023 campaign and, after a decade at the club, there was a feeling there was no more juice to extract.

That was the time the Eels needed to pull the trigger and go all out for Bennett. Or, at the very least, open up a conversation with him. Everyone in the rugby league world knew the Dolphins coach was finishing up at Redcliffe at the end of 2024. And everyone in the rugby league world knew he wanted to keep coaching in the NRL.

Any club doing its due diligence and looking at the future would have made sure they had his mobile number locked in their phone. While Parramatta dithered over Arthur, South Sydney struck.

Wayne Bennett and assistant coach Ben Hornby, pictured here at South Sydney in 2021.
Wayne Bennett and assistant coach Ben Hornby at Souths in 2021.


Bennett is headed back to Souths and the Eels now have a helluva challenge finding the right coach to get them out of this mess. The list of clubs to win the premiership since Parramatta's last success in 1986 sits at 14.

The Eels, Titans and Warriors - the latter two established in 1995 and 2007 respectively - are the only clubs not to have won a competition since then. If you want to discuss the game's great underachievers, Parra sit right alongside the Cronulla Sharks.

Parra’s glory days lasted five years. Their four premierships came between 1981-86. In total, there's been four premierships to show for 77 years. Either side of that it’s been tumbleweeds, apart from a grand final appearance every decade or so.

It’s a poor return for a club located in rugby league heartland with a passionate fan base to match, not to mention a rich nursery of junior players. Coaching Parramatta has become the toughest gig in the NRL. Bennett was perhaps the only one capable of sipping from the poisoned chalice and surviving.