Dragons boss Peter Doust insists a Wayne Bennett return to St George Illawarra hasn’t even registered on his radar, while also leaving the door ajar for caretaker Paul McGregor to be anointed Steve Price’s permanent successor.
Only hours after confirming Price’s rocky 2-year reign as Dragons head coach had come to an end, Doust hosed down speculation the joint venture would try to lure the 2010 premiership-winning coach back to Wollongong.
Bennett’s future is clouded at Newcastle after Nathan Tinkler last week stated he would relinquish his ownership of the Knights.
The four-year deal Bennett signed to leave the Dragons was with Tinkler’s Hunter Sports Group, effectively making him a free agent as soon as the mining magnate hands back control of the Knights.
But Doust was quick to quash speculation of Bennett’s return to the Red V, who have also been linked with NSW coach Laurie Daley, Gold Coast assistant Neil Henry and another former coach in Nathan Brown.
‘‘Who knows what Wayne’s up to with that hullabaloo up in Newcastle? It hasn’t even come within my sphere,’’ Doust told the Mercury.
Pressed on whether the Dragons would seek an outside influence for their next coach, he added: ‘‘We have to explore all options. These are difficult decisions and we’ll explore all options.’’
Price became the first Dragons coach since David Waite in 2000 to be sacked mid-season.
The Mercury can reveal Dragons hierarchy felt compelled to show Price the exit after inserting a clause into his contract extension, announced on Anzac Day last year, which needed a decision by the end of this week.
There was an option in the club’s favour for 2015, but it needed to be triggered before May 31.
Doust addressed the squad on Monday morning to tell them of Price’s axing.
‘‘You don’t get to predict the future, but we felt on balance that the only way we could look forward to some different outcomes was to make the change now,’’ Doust said.
‘‘He’s a great guy and a stand-up guy and a man of great integrity. He’s reflecting on the time he’s spent at the club and contributions he’s made to the club at various levels.
‘‘I’d ask people to remember Steve Price has given a lot to the club over more than 13 years and we’ve got to remember that he was also given the job on the recommendation of Wayne Bennett.’’
Price had been much maligned by Dragons fans despite being left with the remnants of Bennett’s ageing roster in 2012.
He presided over St George Illawarra’s worst ever season last year, which meant they failed to make the finals for the first time in consecutive years in the joint venture’s history.
But he also embarked on a roster overhaul, luring the likes of Gareth Widdop, Josh Dugan, Dylan Farrell and Joel Thompson to the club, while adding Benji Marshall earlier this month.
And Doust, while claiming the Dragons’s recruitment for next year wouldn’t be affected by Price’s exit, said St George Illawarra’s struggles must be shared across the club.
‘‘As we resolved last year in the serious and detailed review into the football club...we didn’t find it appropriate to hold Pricey personally responsible for the outcome in 2013,’’ Doust said.
‘‘At the end of the day, though, these head coaches are well paid and they’ve got significant resources in support of their objectives. Our view is to evaluate their performance and that’s what we’re accountable for.’’
Known as ‘‘Mary’’, McGregor - who flew back from NSW’s Origin camp on Sunday night - will address the playing group for the first time as head coach on Tuesday.
He will then fulfil his NSW State of Origin commitments in Queensland