Bennett says clubs against NRL expansion – including Souths – have ‘vested interests’

Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett has hit back at club chief executives – including his boss at South Sydney – who question the need for a 17th team in the NRL, saying they have ‘vested interests’.

Bennett, who is in the sights of Queensland franchises if a new club is added to the NRL, said on Friday the governing body should not be listening to the clubs if it wishes to develop and grow as a game.

Australian Rugby League Commission boss Peter V’landys surprised clubs when he revealed talks about the expansion were back on the table following a pause due to COVID-19.

League bosses are now set to meet with three Queensland teams who are hopeful to win the bid for the 17th team within the next fortnight.

The news has upset Sydney clubs, who say they are suffering heavily financially due to the competition moving to Queensland, following the outbreak. Club bosses – including Souths CEO Blake Solly – told the Herald on Thursday they fear the financial situation within the NRL will only worsen if the competition expands.

“We have no understanding of where the NRL is at with the free-to-air broadcast negotiations, and very little information about their financial position. The 16 clubs in the competition at the moment should be the NRL’s priority,” Solly said.

Bennett disagrees with Solly and argues the NRL and clubs will benefit long-term from growth within the competition. Bennett will finish with Souths at the end of 2021 and is being targeted as a coach by Queensland franchise bidders.

“If we listen to the other clubs, we would never have had expansion,” Bennett said.

“We would certainly never have had State of Origin, we probably wouldn’t have Test football. There’s always a vested interest party out there and that’s the other clubs.”

Bennett said clubs in Sydney don’t understand the booming interest of rugby league in south-east areas of Queensland and said the timing is ideal given Brisbane had just won the 2032 Olympics bid.

Wayne Bennett has hit back at clubs who say now is not the right time for expansion. Credit:NRL Photos

“Anyone that runs a successful business will tell you that you can either get bigger and stronger, or if you try to sit and at the same level, then you won’t improve and you won’t get better,” Bennett said.

“Clubs are a major a part of the problem. At the moment, they’re having a tough time because they’ve lost a fair bit of revenue. So they like to think there’d be more revenue coming their way than if there are less teams.”

Bennett also refuted the argument there is not enough talent within the NRL and said other coaches were to blame for not getting the best out of their players.

“I’m honestly confident that if I had an opportunity to coach that team, I could put a pretty successful team together pretty quickly with a bit of help from other people,” Bennett said.

“From a personal point of view, from a game point of view that I’ve been involved in all my life, I think it’s the next thing for us to do.”

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