QRL boss Ikin targets Bennett, explains Broncos exit

·3-min read
Darren England/AAP PHOTOS

New Queensland Rugby League (QRL) CEO Ben Ikin says the organisation will in future seek to recruit Wayne Bennett to a formal role to mentor the next generation of coaches.

Ikin, who was previously head of football at the Brisbane Broncos for less than two years, said it was "difficult" to leave, while also insisting he left on good terms and that the club was in a better position than when he arrived in 2021.

He dismissed any suggestion of a rift with coach Kevin Walters and said that both Walters and chief executive Dave Donaghy knew he had a great passion for the QRL.

Ikin said Dolphins mentor Bennett, who has coached the Maroons in 25 State of Origin games, was on the QRL's radar.

"Absolutely," Ikin said.

"He was the coaching director of the Queensland Rugby League at the start of his journey which we all know has just been remarkable.

"More recently Peter V'landys offered to give him a job for life but I think we are going to get (QRL chairman) Bruce Hatcher to get him before the ARLC chairman.

"Wayne is as good as it gets in the world of coaching. Anywhere he goes the organisation gets better.

"At some point if he wants to step away from the cut and thrust of coaching at the NRL level the QRL would welcome him back here in a role that is fit for purpose because it would only add value to what we are doing here."

Ikin said his long-standing relationship with Walters, who he won a premiership at the Broncos alongside in 2000, remained rock solid.

He said the pair had robust and honest conversations at the Broncos that bore fruit.

"We challenged each other and I have no doubt that because we weren't prepared to operate in an echo chamber and had some honest conversations about what needed to happen ... is a big reason why the Broncos are where they are now," Ikin said.

"Kevvie and I have remained great friends. I saw him this morning at the local cafe and he wished me well. I think we can all admit that the Broncos of 2023 under his guidance and leadership are in a really good spot."

Ikin said it was "very important" to lock current Maroons coach Billy Slater into a long-term deal once this year's Origin series was over, while acknowledging that Slater could pursue an NRL coaching career.

When asked if there was a 'Plan B' if Slater moved on, Ikin said "at the moment you'd have to think it was (Maroons assistant coach) Josh Hannay".

"He's been an interim coach in the NRL and been a great support. I think Billy has openly credited his involvement," Ikin said.

"Matt Ballin is a senior assistant at the Brisbane Broncos and then we've got the two old fellas who sit in the background – Wayne Bennett and Mal Meninga – who are also ready to pick up the slack if there's a gap.

"There has been a discussion more recently at board level about how we sure up those candidates so succession planning around that important role is well and truly taken care of."