Wayne Bennett addresses Brandon Smith reports in wake of Damien Cook bombshell at Souths

Bennett has some big decisions to make when he returns to coach the Rabbitohs in 2025.

Wayne Bennett has hosed down speculation he could look to bring in Brandon Smith to replace Damien Cook at Souths when he rejoins the Rabbitohs as head coach in 2025. Bennett is in his final season as head coach of the Dolphins and has the NRL's newest franchise flying this season, with the Redcliffe-based club currently fourth ahead of Friday night's home match against competition front-runners Melbourne.

The master coach has already agreed a three-year deal to take over as head coach of the Rabbitohs from next season, having coached the Bunnies from 2019 to 2021 when the side made two preliminary finals and a grand final. Bennett has already agreed to let veteran No.9 Cook leave at the end of the season, with the former representative hooker agreeing to join the Dragons on a two-year deal from 2025.

Pictured left to right, Wayne Bennett, Brandon Smith and Damien Cook.
Wayne Bennett has brushed off reports the Rabbitohs are looking to replace Damien Cook with Brandon Smith in 2025. Pic: Getty

Cook still had one year remaining on his contract after this season but was clearly not part of Bennett's plans at South Sydney in 2025. Speculation has been mounting that Bennett could turn to New Zealand Test star Smith to replace Cook at No.9 for the Rabbitohs next season, amid reports the Kiwi star has fallen out of favour at the Roosters, having been dropped from the first grade side earlier this month for missing a team meeting.

Smith is reportedly earning around $900,000 per-season at the Roosters and only recently activated an option to extend his contract until the end of the 2025 season. However, there have been suggestions that Cook's impending exit from South Sydney has opened the door for Bennett to swoop on a player he was keen to sign at the Dolphins, before the team's first season in the NRL in 2023.

It's understood the former Melbourne Storm hooker toured the Dolphins' facilities in Redcliffe and verbally agreed to join Bennett's side, before ultimately changing his mind and inking a deal with the Roosters. Speaking ahead of the Dolphins' home game against Smith's former Storm side, Bennett all but ended speculation the Kiwi star could land at the Bunnies in 2025 after insisting his price tag was too prohibitive for the Rabbitohs.

“He would be too expensive for South Sydney, too expensive,” Bennett said. One man who looks set to follow Bennett from the Dolphins to Souths after this season is Euan Aitken, the versatile back-rower who can also play in the centres and has been one of the most consistent performers for the Redcliffe side this season. “I haven’t been told that officially, but I do understand that’s what’s going to happen,” Bennett said about Aitken's potential signing with the Rabbitohs.

Seen here, Euan Aitken playing for the Dolphins in the NRL in 2024.
Euan Aitken could be set to follow Wayne Bennett from the Dolphins to the Rabbitohs in 2025. Pic: Getty

A host of Rabbitohs stars are off contract at the end of this season, such as Izack Thompson, Taane Milne, Michael Chee Kam, Shaquai Mitchell, Isaiah Tass and Leon Te Hau. They could all be playing for their futures at Souths in 2024 with a significant shake-up expected when Bennett takes over the reins after this season.


However, South Sydney's willingness to let Cook walk and link up with the Dragons from 2025 came as a big surprise to the NRL club's fans. Comments the former representative rake made in a Fox League segment with Nathan Hindmarsh and Bryan Fletcher in 2022 might go someway to explaining the situation though. Cook made a less than flattering reference to Bennett when asked if he'd consider joining the Dolphins when he was originally set to come off contract at Souths in 2023.

Bennett had just signed as Dolphins coach at the time but Cook conceded that the coach probably wouldn't want him there. "The wrong coach signed there," he said. "I don't know if he was a big fan of mine when he was here (at Souths). He just wants a hooker who can tackle and pass." Bennett coached Cook at the Bunnies from 2019 to 2021 but in light of the hooker's comments, his impending Rabbitohs exit is perhaps not a surprise with Bennett set to return next year.