Titans join battle for Wayne Bennett

Wanted man: Wayne Bennett.

Wanted man: Wayne Bennett.

RUGBY LEAGUE

Just when St George Illawarra thought they had their man, the Gold Coast are preparing to make a stunning bid for Wayne Bennett.

John Cartwright’s reign at the Gold Coast appears to be on borrowed time after the Titans board announced a comprehensive review of the cash-strapped NRL club’s operations.

Cartwright has two years left to run on his  five-year contract but the Titans currently languish in 13th place and have only made two finals series in their nine-season existence.

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The dearth of success has often placed the former Penrith player under pressure but he’s traditionally received strong support at board level.

However, an open admission by the board that team performance had been ‘‘unsatisfactory’’ has cast a dark cloud over Cartwright’s future.

After a troubled tenure, Bennett announced that he would leave Newcastle at the end of the season and opened negotiations with St George Illawarra this week.

As the Mercury reported last week, Bennett was poised to re-sign with the Dragons after he was aware of their interest for several days before he announced his Newcastle departure.

The club had braced for a move from their rivals and now the Titans are putting themselves in a position to make a lucrative offer, even with their financial problems and the prospect of a significant payout to Cartwright.

In a club statement, the Titans said the board had on Wednesday resolved to immediately begin a complete review of operations, on and off the field.

‘‘The board openly concedes team performance has recently been unsatisfactory despite a tough injury toll in the past three months and this has had an extensive effect on the business as a whole,’’ the statement read.

Chief executive Graham Annesley conceded that Cartwright’s long tenure and this season’s disappointing results had placed a spotlight on the coach.

But Annesley stressed the board needed to review every area of the club’s operations to fix their problems, highlighted by a worrying drop in crowd attendance at Robina.

‘‘I don’t think anyone should focus on the coach,’’ he said.

‘‘All aspects of the business needs to be reviewed.

‘‘The knee-jerk reaction would be just to blame the coach but they [the board] don’t want to make a knee-jerk reaction.’’

Cartwright admitted himself after the Titans’ last-start upset loss to Canberra that he was under the gun from critics calling for his head.

‘‘No doubt they’ll be out there in force,’’ he said after the 36-20 defeat. ‘‘You’ve got to be numb, though. You can’t listen to it.

‘‘You can’t let it affect the way your team sees you or let it affect your approach through the week.’’

Chairwoman Rebecca Frizelle said the Titans needed to move quickly to restore confidence in the club and promised they would make the ‘‘tough decisions’’ required.

‘‘Rarely are problems caused by a single factor therefore rarely will a single response lead to long-term improvement.

‘‘The board needs to fully understand the reasons for under-performance across the entire business and act accordingly.

‘‘Clearly, crowds and revenue are affected by team performance, so we cannot sit on our hands in the hope things will improve without an appropriate strategy in place,’’ she said.

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