Coach last piece of puzzle for premiers
THE re-signing of master coach Wayne Bennett shapes as the final step in St George Illawarra’s plans for an NRL dynasty, but the defending premiers are adamant success can be achieved even without the game’s most successful tactician.
The retention of Kiwi Test winger Jason Nightingale through to the end of the 2015 yesterday made it eight players f rom t his weekend’s starting 13 who are now under lock and key for at least the next three years.
Only Matt Cooper and Darius Boyd of the side that will run out when the red and whites kick off their premiership defence against Gold Coast on Saturday are not contracted beyond 2011, although Cooper is deep in negotiations about finishing his career at the club.
T h a t l e a v e s Bo y d a n d Bennett, who are likely to come as a high-priced package deal to whichever club can woo the latter, given Boyd has already voiced his desire to follow the only coach he has ever had.
S o u t h S y d n e y a n d Newcastle – via potential owner Nathan Tinkler – have a l r e a d y e x p r e s s e d t h e i r interest in Bennett, but the firming option remains a return to Brisbane for the pair.
The Broncos still have room to spare under the salary cap following the nonsigning of Greg Inglis last year. But beyond the obvious question mark over Boyd and Bennett, the Dragons have the most settled roster i n t he competition. Test winger Brett Morris joins Nathan Fien and Beau Scott in coming off contract at the end of 2012, but the remainder will all wear the red and white until at least 2013.
Nightingale, among t he most underrated players in the NRL, admitted the coaching situation beyond 2011 had been a discussion point in negotiations. But with the majority of the side set to stay together for the next few years at least, Nightingale – who played the first 40 games of his career under Nathan Brown before Bennett’s arrival – said the future looked bright no matter who was in charge.
‘‘ There was obviously that thought with all the hype around if Wayne’s staying or if he’s going, but I was more thinking about the club than the coach,’’ Nightingale said.
‘‘ I’m a St George junior, I’ve been here for a long time.
‘‘ A change of staff, I’ve been through that, I’ve seen what it’s done and I’m confident that the club – whoever the coach is in the coming years – is going to be strong.’’
Asked if he pressed Bennett for a clue as to his 2012 whereabouts, Nightingale said: ‘‘ I didn’t want to put pressure on him to decide what his future is . . . I was basing my decision on what I know to be a good club ( rather) than who’s coaching.’’
The by-product of Nighti n g a l e ’ s r e - s i g n i n g a n d Cooper’s probable retention is the diminishing of salary cap reserves and could be an indication the club may have already given up on holding on to Boyd.