Wayne Bennett has refused to give any guarantees he will see out the remaining two years of his contract with Newcastle amid speculation North Queensland want him to be their new coach.
The Cowboys are still searching for a replacement for Neil Henry, who departed the club after the finals defeat by Cronulla earlier this month – and Bennett’s son-in-law Ben Ikin is on the board.
Bennett’s former club Brisbane have also been linked with the seven-time premiership-winning mentor.
Current coach Anthony Griffin is under pressure after the worst season in the club’s history.
Earlier this week Knights chief executive Matt Gidley denied Bennett would be leaving the club.
But the 63-year-old, whose side take on the Sydney Roosters in Saturday’s preliminary final, refused to completely hose down speculation he would be returning to Queensland.
‘‘I’ve got no control over that [speculation], so I don’t worry about it,’’ Bennett said after the Knights’ training.
‘‘I can’t give an iron-clad guarantee to anything in this game.
‘‘Right now I am the coach here, and when that changes I’ll let you know.’’
Bennett was lured to the club by owner Nathan Tinkler after a successful three-year stint at St George Illawarra on a four-year contract, with a $1million bonus if he delivered a premiership.
But the Singapore-based mining magnate, who was once the youngest billionaire in Australia, saw his fortune drop to $18million.
He was also forced to relinquish control of Whitehaven Coal – his key financial asset – to creditors.
Those problems were compounded earlier this month when Aston Metals, a Mt Isa base metal company owned by the 37-year-old, was placed into the receivers’ hands.
But Bennett reiterated his recent support for the Knights’ embattled owner.
‘‘I made a statement after the game in Melbourne that without Nathan, we wouldn’t be here today,’’ he said.
‘‘That was regardless of whether we go good, bad or indifferent over the weekend.
‘‘His contribution has been outstanding and, without it, we wouldn’t have the team we’ve got here, the staff and the people we have. None of it would have happened.’’ AAP