Wayne Bennett has declared his interest in taking over from Michael Maguire as coach of New Zealand's rugby league side. The master coach - whose contract with the Dolphins runs until the end of the 2024 NRL season - made the bombshell admission to News Corp in a stunning new development after Maguire's exit from the Kiwis role.
The New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) agreed to part ways with Maguire after the former Wests Tigers and Rabbitohs coach was offered the job to replace Brad Fittler as NSW State of Origin coach. Maguire's appointment to a multi-year deal with the Blues was confirmed on Thursday, leaving New Zealand with the task of replacing a man who helped mastermind the Kiwis' record-breaking 30-0 mauling of Australia in the final of the Pacific Championships.
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Former Kiwi captain Nathan Cayless and legendary New Zealand halfback Stacey Jones are among the leading contenders to replace Maguire in the role. However, Bennett's huge admission is sure to cause ripples across the Tasman, with the 73-year-old admitting that he would be very interested in coaching the Kiwis when his contract with the Dolphins ends next year.
“I’m not retired yet so if the Kiwis are interested, I’m certainly open to it,” Bennett told News Corp. “I have great affection for the Kiwis, I coach several of their guys at the Dolphins in the Bromwich boys (Jesse and Kenny) and Jamayne Isaako. The door is certainly open for me. If it’s an option for the New Zealand Rugby League, they know where to find me.”
Bennett was an assistant coach with the Kiwis when the team - under head coach Stephen Kearney - won the Rugby League World Cup for the first time in the nation's history in 2008. The New Zealanders belted the Kangaroos 34–20 in the final.
The master coach has also taken the head coaching reins of Australia and Great Britain, and has long been a passionate and outspoken advocate for the international game. Bennett says Australia's dominance in the 2000s and the criticism around the one-sided nature of international rugby league was a driving force behind his decision to join the Kiwis.
Bennett admitted he "didn’t want to stand there and watch international league die" so he decided to link up with New Zealand to devastating effect. The 73-year-old says the recent successes of Pacific Island nations Tonga and last year's World Cup runners-up Samoa proves "the game is heading in the right direction now".
Wayne Bennett throws hat in the ring for Kiwis job
The seven-time premiership winner's public declaration of his interest in the New Zealand job comes after NZRL CEO Greg Peters revealed last week they would leave no stone unturned to find Maguire's successor. Peters promised a "comprehensive" search for their next head coach and said while they'd "love" to appoint a New Zealand-born coach, it was not a prerequisite.
“We will have a thorough and comprehensive process to cast the net as wide as we can and see who we can flush out through that process,” Peters said. “Because we don’t play until October, there’s not a huge rush on this, so we won’t be rushed.
“We’ll make the right decision in time and I would anticipate that we’d like to see something settled early next year. Our priority is to have the best coach. And that should always be the foremost aim.
Yes, we’d love to have a Kiwi coach, no doubt about it. But you’d also like a coach who has coached at the highest level and that’s the challenge because we’re not inundated with Kiwis throughout the NRL that have got head coaching positions.”
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