Wayne Bennett has given South Sydney his word that he won't be coaching anywhere else next year and that word, as we all know, is stronger than oak.*
Nevertheless, the supercoach's future remains a source of wild speculation as his side heads into battle with foundation club rival the Roosters at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.
The Broncos on Thursday interviewed Kevin Walters and Paul Green for the vacant coaching position with an announcement expected sooner rather than later but the 70-year-old Bennett continues to cast a long, skinny shadow nonetheless.
Walters is heavily favoured to get the job but surely both he and Green are aware that Bennett needs only to pick up the phone to chairman Karl Morris at any moment, mumble something about wanting to come home and everything changes.
The flirting between Morris and Bennett via the press a few weeks ago about a possible Bennett homecoming looked like a campaign. At the very least, it appealed to Bennett's vanity.
He plays most of the media off a break and this seemed like another way to keep himself in the headlines, particularly in the pages of The Courier-Mail to which he usually talks excluuuuuusively a day ahead of everyone else.
But things became a little more serious this week with growing talk a leading Sydney manager had reached out to Morris at the request of Bennett.
Alas, not everything in rugby league is ever as it seems, particularly when it comes to the Broncos and the Rabbitohs, both of whom can distort the truth with the best of them.
Others insist that Bennett hasn't reached out to anyone; that he's committed to South Sydney for the remaining year as per his contract; that the agent was doing what agents do by bidding without his permission.
That won't stop Bennett feeding the beast with his cryptic answers and late-night phone calls to select reporters.
Perhaps, more than ever, he is aware of the power and influence he yields.
First, through his pithy one-liners. He is eminently quotable and he knows it.
Second, because of what he's achieved. They will build an enormous statue of Bennett outside Suncorp Stadium one day. Not of Karl Morris. Not of Paul White. Not of Anthony Seibold or Green or Walters.
Bennett knows that, too, and plays up to it more than ever – but is it starting to wear thin with his players?
Following the Rabbitohs' 26-16 last-start loss to the last-placed Bulldogs, it's only natural to wonder if constant chatter about his future has become a distraction.
Bennett said after the match his players had an "attitude problem". It was a telling remark because Bennett-coached sides simply don't have attitude problems. They'd tackle parked cars for Benny, wouldn't they?
Of course, the players would never admit to losing focus because of their beloved coach. They'd deny it cold.
But Broncos players were issuing similar denials in Bennett's final two seasons at Red Hill as he slowly fell out with management over a contract extension.
The truth is some would privately tell you they were growing tired of it "all being about Wayne".
Morris and White played that situation very poorly, but Bennett did a typically Bennett thing and turned it into a public extravaganza.
Certainly, some officials at Souths are growing tired of the growing circus at Redfern. One or two would be prepared to let him ride off into the sunset, shaving $800,000 off the bottom line as the very capable Jason Demetriou takes over.
Whether the interest from the Broncos or Bennett in each other was real, whether it was just harmless flirting or something more serious, South Sydney are going to have deal with speculation about their coach for the remainder of this season and well into the next.
Bennett likes to call other coaches "drama queens" – he humorously did it to Ricky Stuart last year — but nobody can crank up the drama about themselves as much as the king of the coaches.
* Conditions apply - see the Roosters (2006), Souths (2012) and the Dragons (2015) for details.
Cat's out of the bag
Hear the latest rumour out of Penrith about the coach having a wild affair with the halfback's mother?
I know! Unbelievable. Wait. What? Oh …
We don't mean to make light of the unfounded allegations coming out of the Panthers about players having sexual dalliances with former female staffers, but you have to laugh at the absurdity of how such rumours start and then quickly spread like that rash you may or may not have picked up in Cuba last year.
These latest ones have been clunking around for weeks, gaining momentum on social media, and now the club is taking the same tack as former Broncos coach Anthony Seibold by calling in the cybercrime experts.
Let's hope the club doesn't make the same mistake as Seibold's lippy lawyer and declare "people of prominence" are behind the vile rumours before revealing "nobody of prominence".
Just taking the bullshit head on is enough.
The normal convention for many years was to ignore such rumours. Because of the bane of social media it's now better to get on the front foot and cut the snake off at the head.
Airline in the sand
You could set your watch to how many outraged people were saying Qantas had no right to abandon their 30-year sponsorship of Australian rugby because of Israel Folau.
Really, peeps? We're going there again?
The suggestion that Qantas "held a gun to rugby's head" to sack Folau is an absolute nonsense.
"We never demanded they sack anyone," a very well-placed Qantas type tells me. "We said fix it to stop the controversy cause that doesn't do much for us."
See? No gun. No head.
Folau was sacked because he told Rugby Australia he wasn't going to post on social media homophobic rubbish hidden behind the guise of religious belief — but he still did it anyway.
As for Qantas ending its association with the Wallabies, it was simply a matter of dollars. The company has been decimated by COVID-19, with thousands of staff made redundant or stood down, and it couldn't justify a naming rights sponsorship.
Contra and marketing deals were offered but RA believes it can find a new sponsor with deeper pockets at the moment.
In another lifetime, your humble correspondent cut his teeth covering the Maitland Pickers in the Newcastle Rugby League.
What you quickly learn about this great club is the fine tradition of success and quality players it has produced, stretching back to Don "Bandy" Adams, Terry Pannowitz, Brian Burke and then two-time St George premiership centre Robert Finch.
In more recent times, the club has produced NRL players such as Greg Bird, Ryan Stig and Luke Dorn.
Like many grassroots clubs, the Pickers have had their challenges in recent years but they're on the precipice of another great moment in their history after reaching the President's Cup grand final to be held at Bankwest Stadium this Sunday.
The semi-professional competition was born out of the COVID-19 crisis and is a blend of Sydney metropolitan teams and those from regional areas.
"We didn't know if we were biting off more than we could chew when we entered," Pickers president Frank Lawler said. "But we're very proud of what we've achieved."
Coached by the experienced Matt Lantry, and starring former Knights half Brock Lamb, they snuck into the decider with a 16-14 win over Hills District Bulls in the semi-final.
If anything typifies the Pickers' spirit, it was a moment in the first half in which Jayden Butterfield raced 60 metres to bring down one of the Bulls' wingers, who looked certain to score.
That victory sets up a grand final with Glebe-Burwood and a 1000-strong contingent of rowdy Pickers fans are expected to make the trip to Bankwest for the 3.30pm kickoff.
GI gives back
Greg Inglis returns to where it all began on Monday when he launches his Goanna Academy at Gillett Oval in Cooper St, Macksville.
"The Goanna Academy was created to help change lives for the better and break the cycle of rising cases of poor mental health in sectors of youth, adults and indigenous community," the former Souths fullback said. "I enjoy passing my rugby league knowledge of development skills on to the next generation of kids coming through the Academy. I want participants become ‘champions' of what the Academy is all about and support others who may be suffering."
The junior clinic will be held from 11am with more events held throughout the day.
For more info: www.goannaacademy.com.au.
"The referee just announced to the crowd that the play stood and you could hear one hand clapping." — NBC caller Al Michaels during the match between New England and Seattle at an empty CenturyLink Field. If someone eats a hotdog at an NFL match, does anyone hear it?
Monaco-based Tasmanian Richie Porte has been dogged by injuries and illness during past Tour de France campaigns. This year, he shrugged off a flat tyre on the 18th stage to finish on the podium in Paris.
Up there, in the big RSL in the sky, Hooker of the Century Noel Kelly is loving the free schooners but looking down with disgust as the NRL toys with the idea of abandoning the scrum, which threatens to turn rugby league into touch footy.
IT'S A BIG WEEKEND FOR …
Benji Marshall and Chris Lawrence, who play their final matches for the Wests Tigers when their side meets Parramatta on Saturday night.
IT'S AN EVEN BIGGER WEEKEND FOR …
Young racegoers, who will venture to Rosehill Gardens for the Golden Rose meeting on Saturday full of hope and vim before falling onto the train torn asunder with disappointment and regret nine races later.