‘I shot myself in the foot’: How Crowe botched Bennett signing in secret Tinkler meeting

South Sydney owner Russell Crowe has revealed how channelling his inner Kerry Packer hand-delivered coach Wayne Bennett to Knights owner Nathan Tinkler in late 2011.

Bennett can win Crowe his second premiership since taking ownership of the Rabbitohs in 2006 if he can engineer an upset victory over Penrith in Sunday’s grand final at Suncorp Stadium.

As it turns out, the evergreen Bennett could’ve worked his magic for Crowe and the rest of South Sydney far sooner after the Hollywood actor tried to outsmart Tinkler a decade ago.

Speaking to the Herald from quarantine in Thailand, the Hollywood actor lifted the lid on a secret meeting with the young mining magnate inside the dressing room at Redfern Oval.

Souths had been among the favourites to secure Bennett for the 2012 season — until Tinkler bought the Knights and zeroed in on Bennett.

“In 2011, I spent quite a bit of time trying to attract Mr Bennett to Souths,” Crowe said. “At one point, things looked like they were coming our way and we started to feel confident we had the deal in place.

Russell Crowe, right, is desperate to hold on to Wayne Bennett.Credit:Getty

“Then Nathan Tinkler started to become interested in taking over Newcastle. He rang me and asked if we could have a meeting. He came to see me on a day that I happened to be at the sheds in Redfern doing a little redecoration. I was, drill in hand, hanging pictures of former Souths greats in the corridors as inspiration for our current players.

“Nathan was a little flabbergasted that I wouldn’t have hired someone to do the job. I explained that in my view that a hands-on attitude as an owner inspires others around you.

“After a few dozen questions I could feel he was zeroing in on his reason for wanting to chat. He was trying to sniff out where we were with our potential deal with Wayne Bennett.

“Taking a leaf out of my mate, the late great Kerry Packer’s art of negotiation, I basically threw out a number that was more than double the terms we had agreed to with Mr. Bennett — thinking, hoping I’d throw Nathan off the scent by outpricing him. Nathan, though, as we know was not in the mood to be outpriced at that stage.

“A few weeks later he went to Wayne with a number that bested the inflated figure I had put on the table.”

It is understood Souths had offered Bennett about $500,000 a season but he ended up joining Tinkler and the Knights for $1 million with $1m paid up front. Tinkler also provided a private jet for Bennett to fly home to Brisbane each week to see his family.

“Shot myself in the foot with that one,” Crowe said. “Goes to prove I’m no Kerry Packer. Also proves, though, I’m probably the best contract negotiator that Wayne never knew he had.”

It’s up for debate if Crowe shot himself in the foot, as he claims.

Failing to get Bennett led them to Michael Maguire, who in 2014 won Souths their first premiership in 43 years and eight years after Crowe and businessman Peter Holmes-a-Court bought the club.

Crowe now co-owns South Sydney with Packer’s son, James.

As for Bennett, signing with the Knights proved to be a disaster after Tinkler went broke and Bennett left the club with one year remaining on his contract.

Fullback Darius Boyd later revealed in his autobiography how Tinkler would overstep the mark when addressing the team or players, even in Bennett’s presence — something Crowe would never do.

Crowe’s revelations about how he botched the deal contradicts the feeling among others at Souths that Bennett had left them high and dry.

Nathan Tinkler splashed the cash to take Bennett to Newcastle.Credit:Getty

A shrewd negotiator, Bennett has a habit of letting clubs believe they’re about to sign him, only to land a deal worth more money elsewhere.

In 2015, the Dragons were certain they had lured him back to the club for whom he won a premiership in 2010. There was speculation about a handshake agreement with chief executive Peter Doust.

Bennett returned to the Broncos instead after News Corp’s Lachlan Murdoch phoned him at the 11th hour.

He never agreed to terms with Souths in late 2011 but had given former chief executive Shane Richardson every indication he was about to sign — before securing the deal with Tinkler and the Knights.

In the past week, Richardson has spoken in two interviews about Crowe and chairman Nick Pappas being reluctant to sign Bennett partly because of what happened in 2011.

Pappas insisted on a three-year deal but Crowe has been trying to convince Bennett for the past 18 months to stay for longer.

”I’m not sure that your interpretation of what Richo was saying is accurate,” Crowe said.

Regardless, what’s transpired at Souths over the past month has allowed the Bennett legend to grow.

After the six-match ban to star fullback Latrell Mitchell, few gave them a chance. The coach flicked the switch, turning his side from an attacking machine into a defensive wall, shutting down Penrith in the middle in the first week of the finals.

He also toyed with Panthers coach Ivan Cleary in pre-match mind games like a cat with a ball of wool.

Now, Bennett is tantalisingly close to his eighth premiership, his third at three different clubs — and first and last for Crowe.

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