Premiership player Nathan Fien has urged his former club to throw everything at luring Wayne Bennett back to Wollongong.
St George Illawarra chief executive Peter Doust is expected to ramp up moves to re-sign Bennett this week after the seven-time premiership coach announced he would leave Newcastle at the end of the year.
A likely $1 million per year contract with the club he won the 2010 title is only likely to be torpedoed by a lucrative late offer from Queensland NRL rivals Brisbane or the Gold Coast.
However, the Dragons are under financial pressure, after asking the NRL for assistance and taking games away from their home bases at Wollongong and Kogarah for the cash injections provided by playing at major Sydney stadiums.
Fien was a member of the New Zealand test team that Bennett helped steer to an upset victory over Australia in the 2008 World Cup final and linked with him in Wollongong the following year en route to the 2010 premiership.
He said he was ‘‘excited’’ by the prospect of Bennett returning to the club, labelling it a positive move.
‘‘Wayne’s obviously a fantastic coach. I can’t speak highly enough of him and what he can do for a footy side and for individuals,’’ Fien said.
‘‘He definitely knows how to get the best out of his players and he definitely got that out of me.
‘‘You can’t take anything away from what Mary’s [Paul McGregor] done with the team since he’s taken over. ‘‘He’s done outstanding so it’ll be interesting to see what they do but obviously Wayne would add a lot.’’
Fien laughed off suggestions Bennett is a spent force as a coach follwing an underwhelming three years in Newcastle and said the Knights would be far worse off had Bennett not been at the helm as on and off-field turmoil engulfed the club this year.
‘‘You only have to look back to last year and Newcastle went to within one game of the grand final,’’ Fien said.
‘‘I don’t think any club [without Bennett] would have handled the turmoil that the Knights have faced this year, firstly with Russell Packer and then Alex McKinnon and the Tinkler stuff.
‘‘Those things weigh on player’s minds and also on coaching staff so it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Knights this year.’’
Bennett’s desire not to oust an exsiting coach makes the Dragons, with McGregor in an interim role, a seemingly ideal fit but the short-term success of the rookie coach - who as long-term coach would come with far lower price tag - could be an obstacle to Bennett’s return.
Fien threw his support behind the suggested model that would see McGregor, and his 2010 premiership winning teammates Dean Young and Ben Hornby, remain on the coaching staff with a view to a long-term successor.
Fien was part of a mass exodus of experienced players who retired in the seasons following Bennett’s departure as the Dragons missed the finals for consecutive seasons under his successor Steve Price.
He said Bennett’s succession would need to be better managed if he did decide to return.
‘‘They need to plan ahead because obviously Wayne’s not going to be around forever so that succession plan needs to be put in place about who’s going to take over because there’s question marks over whether that was done at the end of his last tenure,’’ Fien said.