Benny backflips, demands big Broncos bucks
WAYNE Bennett has reignited his bitter feud with the Brisbane Broncos by sending a legal letter demanding the club pay him $400,000 after his sacking this month.
The claim comes after Bennett was paid $385,000 this month for his image rights in response to his contract termination for the 2019 season.
Despite being sacked on December 2, Bennett walked straight into a three-year, $800,000-a-year contract with the Rabbitohs.
The legal letter,in which Bennett says he reserves the right to enforce court proceedings, comes after the six-time Broncos premiership coach late last month insisted the toxic coaching negotiations were "not about money".
"I don't want any payout. It's about the promise I made to my players (to coach them at Brisbane in 2019, the last year of his contract),'' Bennett said in late November.
Broncos CEO Paul White yesterday confirmed the letter was sent by Bennett's legal team on December 14.
The Broncos, whose majority owner is News Corp Australia, publisher of The Courier-Mail, were given a deadline of yesterday to respond to the letter, but Mr White said his club's lawyers had asked for a month to formulate a reply.
He refused to comment on the content of the letter.
In an unusual twist, even by the standards of Bennett's battle of wits with Broncos management, Bennett will effectively be suing his new employer, South Sydney, which has undertaken to pay 50 per cent of any award the Broncos are forced to pay towards his 2019 salary.
In the immediate fallout to his sad and bitter exit from the Broncos, Bennett told The Courier-Mail he had no intention of suing Brisbane.
It was reported then that he was reluctant to go through the mental anguish of a protracted legal battle.
But in a scathing termination of his Broncos job, Bennett is understood to have been dumped by Brisbane over claims he breached his contract by bringing the club into disrepute, leaking to the media and dealing with South Sydney regarding player rostering and pre-season planning.
Bennett strongly denies the Broncos' claims and says they are incorrect.
Bennett's repeated claims that he was unaware of a possible coaching swap with the Rabbitohs for the 2019 NRL season have also been called into question.
A letter dated October 25 was sent from Souths to Bennett. The letter stated that if Bennett and the Rabbitohs were in a position for him to start work in 2019, his contract would be amended to cover the 2019-21 seasons.
Bennett held on to the Souths contract, containing the 2019 clause, for 31 days before signing it on November 25, seven days before he was sacked by the Broncos. The Courier-Mail understands that, during the talks between Souths and Brisbane before the termination of Bennett's Broncos contract on December 2, Souths agreed to contribute 50 per cent of any award the Broncos were ordered to pay towards Bennett's former 2019 contract.
The Courier-Mail does not suggest Bennett knew of this undertaking by Souths.
"I'm really pleased it's all resolved and that I can join this great club with a free mind, knowing I did the right thing by the fans, staff and players," Bennett said in a Souths statement on December 2.
"I'm really looking forward to being at South Sydney and working with the players, staff, board and all of the members."
At his first session with the Rabbitohs on December 4, Bennett said he was "happy to be sacked" by the Broncos.
"I'm pleased I came on my terms in the sense I didn't have to ask to leave the Broncos … I was sacked. I have a clear conscience," he said.
His signing was announced publicly by South Sydney on December 2. It was just hours after White and Broncos chairman Karl Morris released news of the sacking of Bennett and the arrival of Anthony Seibold to lead the 2019 Broncos campaign, rather than starting in the 2020 season.
Bennett was in contact with Broncos recruiting staff. Despite a report to the contrary, Bennett was consulted on the move to release Josh McGuire to the North Queensland Cowboys, announced publicly on November 19.
Broncos players said consistently that they hoped Bennett would coach in 2019. Several staff said they were working on the basis Bennett would coach at the club until the day he was terminated.
The Seibold-coached Broncos and the Bennett-led Rabbitohs are drawn to play two matches in 2019.
Countdown to a crisis
April 19, 2018: Wayne Bennett storms out of weekly pre-game press conference when asked about his future at the club.
May 23: It's revealed the Broncos made a secret approach to Storm coach Craig Bellamy.
June 9: The Broncos identify Souths coach Anthony Seibold as a possible option if Bellamy stays loyal to Melbourne.
June 16: Bellamy signs a new three-year deal with Melbourne.
July 12: Bennett receives a letter from Broncos chairman Karl Morris offering him a "senior administrative role" for 2020, an offer that was not publicly revealed until mid-August.
July 26: Bennett tells media he has spoken to Morris and no decision would be made on his future until after the season.
August 9: The Courier-Mail reveals Bennett and CEO Paul White are no longer on speaking terms.
August 14: Tensions grow when The Courier-Mail reveals Bennett and Darius Boyd skipped a team barbecue at White's home and Bennett instead hosts players at his house.
August 16: White refuses to guarantee Bennett's future, saying he is Brisbane's coach for 2019 only. Seibold explodes at a post-match press conference after South Sydney's loss to the Broncos, saying he is sick of speculation over his future.
August 17: Bennett rejects Brisbane's job offer for 2020, saying: "I don't want a front-office position." Makes it clear he is prepared to coach at another club in 2020.
September 25: Broncos formally announce 2019 season will be Bennett's last with the club.
October 7: Anthony Milford confirms Bennett told the playing group he will stay in 2019.
October 8: White, Morris and board member Darren Lockyer travel to Sydney for a three-hour interview with Seibold. There are three other candidates in Michael Maguire, Kevin Walters and Jason Demetriou.
October 25: Seibold advises Souths his preferred option is coaching the Broncos, passing up a rich extension. The Rabbitohs then announce they have signed Bennett on a two-year deal for seasons 2020 and 2021.
October 26: Bennett declares he has no interest in a straight swap with Seibold for 2019.
October 31: The Broncos finally confirm the signing of Seibold on a four-year deal from 2020. In a press release, the club states Bennett will be the coach in 2019.
November 2: Bennett blasts suggestions he is trying to recruit players for South Sydney in 2020 after reports he had spoken to Trent Merrin about a possible move.
November 5: Seibold insists he is committed to South Sydney for 2019 after it is reported the Rabbitohs were trying to negotiate an immediate coaching swap with the Broncos. Denies he has lost Souths players.
November 15: Speculation continues that the Broncos and Rabbitohs are holding secret talks to negotiate an immediate swap of both coaches.
November 16: Seibold makes his first staff appointment for Brisbane, with former NSW forward Ben Cross to join him at Red Hill in 2020 as an assistant coach.
November 21: Bennett returns home after his successful tour in the UK. Declares he will be at Broncos training the following day.
November 22: On his first day back at Red Hill, Bennett watches the training session through a window and dodged the large media pack, leaving Broncos HQ by using decoy cars and lying in the back seat of another vehicle.
November 24: Bennett and Morris have a three-minute meeting in which they both agree the super coach will remain at Red Hill in 2019. Bennett then hides inside a cafe toilet to avoid the waiting media pack.
November 30: Bennett calls his own press conference to again declare he is staying at Brisbane in 2019, but speculation remains that the club's powerbrokers may be preparing to sack him.
December 2: The Broncos announce that Bennett's coaching contract has been terminated.
December 14: Bennett sends a legal letter to the Broncos demanding $400,000.
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