WAYNE Bennett has not ruled out another return as Maroons coach despite submitting his resignation in the wake of his magical mission bringing the Origin shield back to Queensland.
Bennett informed the Queensland Rugby League he would not return to Camp Maroon next season, the revelation coming just six weeks after he engineered one of the greatest series triumphs in State of Origin’s 40-year history.
The Maroons were given no hope of beating the Blues in the historic COVID-affected November series following an injury crisis that ruled out 2019 incumbents Michael Morgan, David Fifita, Moses Mbye, Corey Oates and Kalyn Ponga.
To compound their plight, Maroons mentor Kevin Walters resigned after clinching an NRL gig with the Broncos, leaving Queensland without a coach a month out from the 2020 series kick-off.
Returning for his fourth stint as Queensland coach, the 70-year-old conjured another piece of coaching wizardry, inspiring a band of maligned Maroons debutants to a shock 2-1 series victory, just as he did two decades earlier when ‘Bennett’s Babes’ stunned NSW to win the 2001 crown.
While Bennett is walking away after his three-match cameo, the seven-time premiership-winning coach left the door ajar for a Maroons comeback when his NRL contract with South Sydney expires this year.
Asked if his Queensland coaching journey is over for good, Bennett said: “When I get a bit older, they (Queensland Rugby League) might give me another chance.
“I won’t close the door on anything. I still love coaching.
“Who knows? For now, I will keep living the dream.”
The decision for Bennett to leave Camp Maroon was as agonising as it was pragmatic.
The 2021 campaign marks the final year of his three-season contract with the Rabbitohs and Bennett wants to give his all to South Sydney in what could represent his swansong as an NRL coach.
“I made this decision (to quit as Queensland coach) mainly because of South Sydney,” he said.
“I feel I owe them a great debt. They picked me up when I got the sack out of nowhere (from the Broncos in 2018).
“They have been a wonderful club to be a part of. They freshened my mindset about coaching and what makes great clubs and what makes some clubs better than other clubs.
“I felt I owed Russell Crowe (Souths owner). He is heavily invested in the club and all the staff and players. I feel I owe them a lot.
“They were supportive of me when I got the Queensland job and they would have supported me if I stayed on, no question. But I decided I wanted to have one major focus this year and that is South Sydney.”
Given the catalogue of successes during his 45-year coaching career, Bennett finds it hard to label Queensland’s 2020 Origin trophy win as his greatest triumph. But it’s surely in the grand final.
He was forced to blood a staggering 14 debutants in 2020, including AJ Brimson, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Lindsay Collins, Jaydn Su’A, Kurt Capewell and Jake Friend.
Other rookies, such as Brenko Lee, Edrick Lee, Corey Allan and Dunamis Lui, were regarded by pundits as players never good enough for the Origin arena.
Then there was Harry Grant, the 22-year-old hooking young gun who produced the game of his life in the decider to inspire Queensland’s pulsating 20-14 defeat of the Blues before 49,155 fans at Suncorp Stadium.
The boilover came after a brilliant 18-14 disposal of NSW in the series opener in Adelaide, only for the Blues to hit back in Game Two with a 34-10 drubbing that set up a Suncorp decider.
Bennett has coached countless games at Suncorp with the Broncos, but says the atmosphere as the Maroons charged to victory – fittingly on the 40th anniversary of Arthur Beetson leading Queensland onto Lang Park in Origin’s debut in 1980 – will never be forgotten.
“The players don’t usually talk about the crowd, but they said later every time we in trouble, the crowd seemed to realise we needed help and rose for us,” Bennett said.
“That took us to another level. They stayed in their thousands after the game to watch us to get the trophy. It was magical.
“I don’t know how to rank it, but I’ve had some great moments in coaching. I could go back to 1985 when Souths beat Wynnum Manly 10-8. That was the start of my coaching career, it was the upset of all upsets and no-one gave us a chance that year either.
“The crowd on that night (for the Origin decider), I don’t know where that noise came from … maybe it was the Maroon jumpers coming out on the field or the way we played. But the crowd was outstanding.
“I have never experienced a better night there at Suncorp, in terms of atmosphere and the crowd buying into it.
“The players were very special throughout the whole series. They bought into our vision and gave me everything. This win was as good as anything I’ve been involved with.”