Ugly claims around Wayne Bennett worsen as South Sydney continue stunning NRL surge

The Dolphins' form has fallen off a cliff since Bennett agreed to join Souths next season.

Ugly claims continue to be thrown around about Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett as his side's NRL form slump coincides with his decision to join the Rabbitohs next season. The Dolphins side started the season in scintillating form but have faltered following Bennett's announcement, losing four of their last five games.

The Dolphins' worst run of form this season has come on the back of Bennett last month agreeing to a three-year deal to return to the Rabbitohs in 2025, the side he coached to two preliminary finals and a grand final from 2019 to 2021. But as the Dolphins struggle, in contrast, the resurgent Rabbitohs start to believe they can make a late charge to qualify for the NRL finals and pull off the inverse of their fizzling 2023 campaign. After winning five straight, Souths have lifted themselves from last on the ladder to within two points of the top eight, shaking off a dismal start to 2024 that saw Jason Demetriou sacked.

Pictured left Wayne Bennett and right Souths celebrate after try against the Eels
Wayne Bennett's Dolphins side's form has fallen off a cliff after he agreed to join Souths next season. Image: Getty

The Rabbitohs' forward pack had been their achilles heel in the past but of late it has been their strength, with another stellar defensive effort on display on Thursday night as they made it five on the bounce against a struggling Eels side. The Rabbitohs were strong all around the park in their 32-16 win at a rain-soaked CommBank Stadium on Thursday and the preliminary finalists in five consecutive seasons before 2023 are starting to believe they can not only make the finals but be a real threat for the premiership in what looked impossible just weeks ago.

But Bennett's input into the Souths side this year hasn't gone down well as many question where his priorities lie. Phil Rothfield suggested last month that the Rabbithohs' incredible form turnaround was no fluke and had Bennett's fingerprints all over it.

There have been claims that he has been in regular communication with Souths players and interim coach Ben Hornby. “James Hooper said last week that Wayne was chatting to Ben Hornby and said move (Keaon) Koloamatangi from the edge to the middle," Rothfield said on the Big Sports Breakfast.

"Latrell is on the phone to him quite often. It was four weeks ago he announced he was leaving the Dolphins... since then the Dolphins have lost three of their last four games. It’s no secret, whenever you pick the paper up there’s a Souths player saying they spoke to Wayne."

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 04: Jack Wighton of the Rabbitohs (L) scores a try during the round 18 NRL match between Parramatta Eels and South Sydney Rabbitohs at CommBank Stadium, on July 04, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
After winning five straight, Souths have hoisted themselves from last on the ladder to within two points of the top eight.

Naturally, part of a coach's job revolves around planning for next season and the Rabbitohs have already started doing that but a lot of the strings appear to be being pulled by Bennett. The Bunnies agreed to let former representative hooker Damien Cook leave for the Dragons in 2025, a move that would have been given the go-ahead by Bennett. And critics have pointed out that as Bennett diverts plenty of his focus onto the Rabbitohs for 2025, the Dolphins' form has suffered as a result.

The Dolphins have lost four of their past five games and are just four points ahead of the Rabbitohs. And they must turn their form around and fast if they are to play finals footy in 2024, as they gear up to face the team Bennett will coach next year.

"We have put ourselves in this situation, with the good and bad of it," Bennett said after the Dolphins' last loss. "The bottom line is that we control all that and no one else can drag us out of it except ourselves.

"The injury toll is starting to get a bit high again, so that makes the challenge even bigger. Our first halves in the last four or five games have been tremendous. We have either led or been right in the game... and self-destructed in the second half."


Despite the scrutiny around Bennett and where his priorities are, Dolphins chief executive Terry Reader insists the master coach is 100 per cent committed to the Dolphins in 2024. “Wayne’s got one job and that’s coaching us," Reader told The Daily Telegraph. “He’s just concerned about the team performing each week. We’re not worried about it at all. We’ve got Kristian Woolf looking after our planning for next year and beyond."