Legends in line to coach Maroons as Bennett bows out
The Maroons have devised a radical plan to replace departing coach Wayne Bennett which could see Origin legends Cameron Smith or Billy Slater take the reins of Queensland.
Bennett has revealed he will not return as Queensland coach in 2021 after orchestrating last year's remarkable Origin series victory.
The 71-year-old supercoach has opted to focus on his NRL commitments with South Sydney ahead of what is his final season in charge of the Rabbitohs.
Former North Queensland Cowboys coach Paul Green is favourite to replace Bennett as Maroons coach for the 2021 Origin series, which will revert back to its traditional mid-year slot.
However Green's stint could be short-lived, with the Queensland Rugby League firmly believing he will be in charge of an NRL club before the year is over.
The QRL has a policy to have a dedicated Maroons Origin coach without any NRL ties.
The rule was relaxed for the unique 2020 series, which was played after the NRL premiership grand final due to the COVID season suspension.
The QRL has already held talks with Green, who is keen on the job but has expressed he maintains a desire to coach in the NRL after being sacked by North Queensland last year.
That is why the QRL is looking to implement a succession plan which could see Green usher in a longer-term coach like Maroons legends Smith, Slater, Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston or Justin Hodges.
"With Paul Green I'm sure within a year he will have an NRL job and he expresses the view that is his priority," said QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher.
"We will go through a process because there have been players who have been exceptional at NRL level but don't want to be a fulltime coach and would throw their hat in the ring to be an Origin coach.
"The ones that come to mind are Slater, Cameron Smith, Hodges and those guys.
"It's not as simple as just being a coach for six weeks. We've still got a camp-based system with the Queensland Academy of Sport. We need to communicate and watch players playing to make sure they're ready to come through.
"The coach can't just turn up for the three Origin games.
"We would prefer to bring one of those guys in under the coaching leadership of an experienced coach (like Green)."
While the succession plan seems daring, the QRL has proven it can think outside the box and deliver results.
Bennett was called into the role for a one-series cameo following the appointment of Kevin Walters as head coach of the Brisbane Broncos.
The QRL and Bennett managed to recruit Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga as an assistant and orchestrated one of the famous Origin victories despite being installed as rank underdogs.
Bennett publicly flirted with the idea of remaining as Queensland coach but ultimately decided to focus on delivering the Rabbitohs a fairytale farewell premiership.
Queensland Rugby League managing director Robert Moore thanked Bennett for his service.
"We were really grateful that Wayne made himself available to help us out last year," Moore said.
"He was the perfect fit for the role with the players we had and the situation we were in. Together with his assistants Neil Henry and Mal Meninga, it was an outstanding coaching set up that laid the foundations for one of our state's greatest series wins.
"We understand the decision Wayne has made in his last year of his contract with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, as he's eager to concentrate his efforts on them because they've been so close (to a premiership).
"With Wayne's decision, we've now moved to a process to consider the next appointment and we anticipate that process will be completed early this year."
The QRL is expected to finalise Bennett's replacement next month to begin preparations for the June-July series.
Originally published as Legends in line to coach Maroons as Bennett bows out