Wayne Bennett under fire over South Sydney move that has hampered Dolphins' NRL hopes

Bennett's side have nosedived since he agreed to join Souths next season.

Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett has come under scrutiny after his side's NRL form slump has coincided with his decision to re-join Souths as head coach next season. Bennett's Dolphins side have been flying in what is just their second season in the NRL in 2024, and remain fifth despite losing three of their last four games.

Coincidentally though, the Dolphins' worst run of form this season has come after Bennett last month agreed on a three-year deal to return to the Rabbitohs in 2025, having coached the Bunnies from 2019 to 2021 when the side made two preliminary finals and a grand final. Naturally, part of a coach's job revolves around planning for next season and the Rabbitohs have already started doing so.

From right to left is Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett and South Sydney players in the NRL.
Wayne Bennett has been accused of focusing too much on South Sydney for the 2025 NRL season at the expense of his Dolphins side. Pic: Getty

The Bunnies have agreed to let former representative hooker Damien Cook leave for the Dragons in 2025, in a move that would have been rubber-stamped by Bennett. But critics have pointed out that while Bennett diverts some of his focus onto the Rabbitohs roster for 2025, the Dolphins form has suffered as a result.

Not only that, South Sydney's form has been sensational in the month since Bennett revealed he was moving back to Redfern in 2025. Interim coach Ben Hornby's side have won their last four games in a row to climb off the bottom of the ladder and reignite their hopes of playing finals footy. And the contrasting recent fortunes of the Rabbitohs and Dolphins have sparked questions around where Bennett's focus lies.

“It was four weeks ago he announced he was leaving the Dolphins... since then the Dolphins have lost three of their last four games,” veteran league reporter Phil Rothfield said on the Big Sports Breakfast. “The Rabbitohs have come from nowhere to win their last four games, it’s no secret, whenever you pick the paper up there’s a Souths player saying they spoke to Wayne."


Rothfield suggested South Sydney's incredible form reversal in recent weeks was no fluke and that Bennett's fingerprints were all over it, amid claims he's been on the phone regularly to Rabbitohs players and the interim coach. “James Hooper said last week that Wayne was chatting to Ben Hornby and said move (Keaon) Koloamatangi from the edge to the middle. Latrell is on the phone to him quite often.

"I love the fact Wayne cares about those boys and he is heading there, but if this happened in a major business, and I use the example of retail... If the boss of David Jones quit and joined Myer next year, would he be planning the Boxing Day sales with the staff at the new joint? Would he be making the recruitment decisions? I’m not saying the Dolphins are gone or anything, they just aren’t winning and this game is about winning.”

Seen here, Wayne Bennett with Dolphins players during an NRL training session.
Wayne Bennett's Dolphins have dipped in form since he agreed a deal to re-join the Rabbitohs from 2025. Pic: Getty

The decision to allow Cook to leave in 2025 despite still having one year left on his contract shows that Bennett is in contact with Rabbitohs players and club officials. Dolphins star Euan Aitken is also widely tipped to follow Bennett to the Bunnies in 2025. “He (Bennett) rubber stamped Damien Cook walking out on the last year of his contract to join St George Illawarra, he talked Euan Aitken into leaving the Dolphins to come to Souths,” Rothfield said.

Despite the scrutiny around Bennett and his focus for this season, Dolphins chief executive Terry Reader has thrown his support behind the master coach and is adamant he's 100% committed to the Redcliffe club 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."