South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett has shot down claims that he had a handshake deal with long-time enemy Phil Gould to join the Panthers once his reign at the Broncos ended.
Penrith chair Dave O’Neill lit a fuse earlier this week, ahead of Saturday’s Panthers-Rabbitohs preliminary final, when he revealed that “there’s wasn’t one board member who was interested at all” in the supercoach after saying Gould approached him to let him know he and Bennett had “reached an understanding”.
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The club instead signed Ivan Cleary.
Bennett has since broken his silence on the matter to The Courier Mail, denying that there ever was a handshake deal.
“That is absolute garbage,” Bennett said.
“I have never looked at going to Penrith.
“There was a lot of talk around my future during that time at the Broncos when I was sacked (in December 2018). I have never met Dave O’Neill … I wouldn’t know him if he walked past me tomorrow.”
Pressed on the handshake deal, Bennett vehemently denied it again.
“I have never spoken to one person at Penrith. I never had one phone call from them. I didn’t talk to Gus Gould … no one,” he said.
“If Phil Gould wanted me, I would have no idea. I was never privy to one thing.”
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Bennett went on to reveal the only other club he considered was the Tigers, who tabled him a three-year offer.
“The truth is this; the only team that I ever talked to was the Wests Tigers.
“There was a three-year deal with them on offer and I would have done the deal with the Tigers if the Broncos were upfront with me and told me they were going to sack me for 2019.
“I gave my word I was staying at the Broncos and I intended to honour my final 12 months, so that’s why I knocked back the Tigers.
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“I never chased the Penrith job. I have been associated and linked with every club. Apparently I was going to New Zealand earlier this year. I’ve always said I was happy at Souths and I would honour my contract at Souths and here I am.”
The stage is now set for a fiery showdown between Bennett’s Bunnies and Cleary’s Panthers so secure a spot in next week’s grand final.
Originally published asBennett blasts ‘garbage’ Gus Gould claim
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