Parramatta defend Brad Arthur sacking, detail failed attempt to lure Wayne Bennett

Parramatta officials have confirmed they “wanted” Wayne Bennett to take over the team in 2025 and are confident star recruit Zac Lomax won’t back out of his decision to join as they embark on the hunt for coach Brad Arthur’s replacement.

Arthur was officially sacked on Monday following their shocking start to the year, but the decision was taken on May 1, and the club spoke to Bennett the very next day.

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The Eels are stuck in 14th with just three wins having struggled to remain competitive without star players Clint Gutherson and Mitchell Moses who are both out injured and

their dreadful showing against the Storm in Magic Round forced their hand.

While his sacking wasn’t a huge shock, the revelation that the Eels had been chasing Bennett for nearly three weeks was a surprise, with the master coach always keen on returning to the Rabbitohs – something which was confirmed on Tuesday morning.

“We wanted Wayne Bennett, it’s as simple as that, and we spent the best part of three weeks trying to convince him to come,” Eels chairman Sean McElduff said.

“Ultimately he made it clear to us that he had unfinished business at the Rabbitohs and that was the direction he was heading.

“He was interested, we put our proposition to him and he was genuinely interested but I think he felt strongly with his connection to the Rabbitohs.

“We didn’t make a decision on our head coach until May 1 and we didn’t approach Wayne until May 2.”

Having missed the finals last year, pressure was always going to be on Arthur to turn things around with a strong roster that had to win soon.

Parramatta haven’t won a premiership since 1986 — the longest drought in the NRL.

“I think performances to start the season as well as probably a season that was below expectation in 2023 (contributed to the decision),” chief executive Jim Sarantinos said.

“The combination of those two things just meant that we felt it was time for a change.”

Remaining candidates for the Eels coaching job include Justin Holbrook, Josh Hannay, Jason Ryles and Sam Burgess.

The Eels are confident that Dragons star Zac Lomax won’t change his mind on joining the club next season just because Arthur is gone, with questions now being raised about the rest of their recruitment policy.

“We will be having a conversation with Zac today,” Sarantinos, said.

“Our focus over the last little while has been having a conversation with the players in the building. We will be having a conversation with Zac.

“None of our players have any clause like that in their contract. That’s not the way we operate.”

The club brought in a couple of fringe first-graders in the off-season which has left them light on in the outside backs, with interim coach Trent Barrett hoping to have Moses and Gutherson back in the coming weeks.

Recruitment and retention has long been an issue at the Eels, and whoever they bring in as coach in 2025 will play a key role in deciding who comes and who goes.

“We were very comfortable with the say Brad had on recruitment,” Sarantinos said, with the club now having to choose between finding an experienced coach or turning to a rookie to turn things around.

“I think the head coach should have the strongest say on recruitment and the players that come in, we won’t operate any differently to that and that will continue with the next head coach.”

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