St George Illawarra firms for Wayne Bennett's signature

Coach Wayne Bennett accompanies injured Newcastle Knights player Alex McKinnon to a media briefing on Monday. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Coach Wayne Bennett accompanies injured Newcastle Knights player Alex McKinnon to a media briefing on Monday. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

RUGBY LEAGUE

St George Illawarra is shaping as the only likely destination for "out of work" super coach Wayne Bennett.

Bennett shocked Newcastle fans, staff and players last week in announcing he would leave the club at the end of this NRL season after three seasons in charge.

Second coming not foolproof

The Mercury last week reported Bennett was poised to return to the Dragons and negotiations have ramped up this week.

However, St George Illawarra are wary of a rival club making a late swoop, with North Queensland, Gold Coast, Brisbane and the Warriors linked to the seven-time premiership winner.

Go to the Dragons Den

But on Tuesday Cowboys board member and Bennett's son-in-law Ben Ikin ruled out the possibility of the club approaching the former Queensland and Australian mentor, saying Paul Green was seen as a long-term option in Townsville.

Ikin said Bennett had timed his decision well to best allow a bidding war for his services, but the Dragons, who are reportedly ready to offer a three-year $3 million deal to the man who led them to the 2010 premiership, could be the veteran's only option.

The cash-strapped Titans would have to pay embattled John Cartwright out of the final two years of his contract and pay Bennett's salary, which seems unlikely.

The Broncos are another possibility but club legend Gordon Tallis, who has strong links to the Brisbane board, says the mindset at Red Hill is that Anthony Griffin has them on the right track and they need to emerge out of Bennett's lengthy six-premierships shadow.

The Warriors made a big-money play to Craig Bellamy before he recommitted to Melbourne and are another possibility but Andrew McFadden has turned around the Auckland-based side since Matthew Elliott's sacking.

Struggling Cronulla have also been mentioned as a possibility but suspended coach Shane Flanagan recently re-signed for three more years.

Bennett, who now describes himself as "out of work", said he "sacked himself" from the Knights after a disastrous season which started with the pre-season jailing of Russell Packer for assault.

The club remains a slim chance of making this year's finals after falling one game short of the grand final last year.

"[I'm] moving on," Bennett said.

" . . . I've been embarrassed up there the way we've played. I've got to take responsibility for that, I'm the coach."

Ikin was adamant Bennett would not end up in Townsville.

"Wayne Bennett's name has not been mentioned. It will not be mentioned," he told Racing Radio's Big Sports Breakfast on Tuesday morning.

"It hasn't been discussed.

"He is not an option, he will not be an option. We are very happy with the bloke we employed at the end of last year and we see a bright future for Paul Green up there."

AAP

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