Rugby league legends Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler have warned the Penrith Panthers not to fall for the mind games of Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett ahead of their blockbuster NRL preliminary final clash on Saturday night.
Earlier this week Bennett found his name in the headlines after a revelation from Panthers chairman Dave O’Neill in The Sydney Morning Herald that no one was “interested at all” in bringing the super coach to Penrith back in 2018.
Former Panthers general manager Phil Gould had reportedly struck a handshake deal for Bennett to coach the club as Anthony Griffin’s tenure came to a close during 2018. Yet O’Neill was at the same time pursuing Ivan Cleary, who had previously coached the club. Bennett has won seven premierships, while Cleary has none.
Responding to the rumours, Bennett denied he ever had any interest in moving to Penrith.
“That is absolute garbage,” Bennett told The Courier-Mail.
“I have never looked at going to Penrith.”
Johns said Bennett’s response was simply a move to put pressure on the Panthers as both sides get set to lock horns for a spot in the 2020 NRL grand final.
“Putting the pressure off his team and putting it on the Panthers,” Johns told Wide World of Sports’ Freddy and the Eighth.
“He’s done it for 40 years.”
What does Walters do with Anthony Milford: Freddy & the Eighth
Fittler added that Bennett’s response was all part of the mind games he “stays up at night” planning for opposition teams.
“He’s a pretty intelligent bloke. You can’t underestimate him,” Fittler said.
“He loves the games.
“He probably stays up at night thinking about the games. Not the actual game being played but the mental games going on.
“I can’t wait until Origin – the games he’s going to try and play.
“It’s going to be awesome.”
Which six will make the NSW Origin side? Sterlo’s Wrap
And with Bennett once again taking on the head coaching duties of the Maroons at Origin, Fittler said his coaching future might be with Queensland once his Rabbitohs contract is up.
“It would be a nice thing to do,” Fittler added.
“Queensland, their teams have failed this year.
“Whether the junior development hasn’t worked out lately or we just haven’t quite seen the three clubs up there.
“They’ve been up there for a long time. They’ve done a great job for a long time. That (Origin) might be his future.
“But he loves the club. He loves the games.”
Johns added: “He doesn’t have a hobby, he loves it that much.
“He needs the game to keep going. He doesn’t play golf.”