Wayne Bennett all smiles having a laugh with Sam Burgess at Redfern Oval for his first session as South Sydney Rabbitohs coach. Picture. Phil Hillyard
Wayne Bennett all smiles having a laugh with Sam Burgess at Redfern Oval for his first session as South Sydney Rabbitohs coach. Picture. Phil Hillyard

Bennett claims first win over Broncos

With seven weeks still to go before the 2019 NRL season officially kicks off, Wayne Bennett has already scored his first points win over Anthony Seibold.

In a major turnaround in the all-important NRL membership sales, Bennett's Bunnies are now sensationally upstaging his old Broncos with a staggering 27,298 paid members so far.

To put that in perspective it is more than 2000 clear of second-placed Brisbane on 25,049, and up about 1500 on where Souths were this time last year.

When Brisbane pushed Bennett out the door at the end of last year to trade places with Seibold many in the game were saying the NRL's oldest coach had lost his aura.

But it seems Rabbitohs fans haven't bought into that theory.

Despite the Broncos being slightly down on membership from last year, the two powerhouse clubs are still way out in front of their NRL rivals, with Parramatta fighting strongly in third place (19,718) despite finishing last year with the wooden spoon, ahead of Melbourne (18,046) and Newcastle (15,889).

The NRL website then lists Wests Tigers sixth (15,512) followed by Penrith (13,846), Cronulla (13,201), New Zealand (12,650), St George Illawarra (12,226), Sydney Roosters (11,532), Canberra (11,504) North Queensland (10,972), Canterbury (9467), Manly (9154) and Gold Coast (5466).

Those figures are quite concerning for some Sydney clubs, most notably the Sea Eagles and Bulldogs.

But as South Sydney chief executive Blake Solly explained, memberships have a huge bearing on the financial success of a club like Souths.

"We are at just over $4 million a year in membership revenue, which in a lot of ways is essential to a club like ours that doesn't have licensed club funding," Solly said.

"More so, it is important when you look at the investment we are making back in the pathways program for 2019 and the community and high performance centre at Heffron Park.

"Members really are the lifeblood financially and emotionally of our club."

South Sydney will be Bennett’s fifth NRL club. Picture by Phil Hillyard.
South Sydney will be Bennett’s fifth NRL club. Picture by Phil Hillyard.

And Solly said Bennett's pulling power was already there for all to see.

Souths actually finished in front of the Broncos in membership numbers in 2014 and 2015 but in the years since the Broncos have led the way, finishing last year with 36,000-plus.

This time last year Souths actually held a slight edge over the Broncos in membership numbers but still well short of where they are now.

"We are running No.1 at the moment which is great news," Solly said.

"The members have responded to a pretty good season on the field in 2018 and the arrival of Wayne.

"There is a huge amount of optimism around the membership base at the moment."

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