Wayne Bennett has relinquished the Queensland Origin coaching reins to focus on South Sydney's 2021 premiership tilt, putting former Cowboys coach Paul Green in the box seat to take over.
NRL.com can reveal that Bennett told the QRL he would not be returning to the interstate arena within a fortnight of masterminding their stunning 2020 series upset.
Bennett turned 71 on January 1 and has previously declared he could juggle both club and Origin duties as the series returns to a mid-year scheduling slot across June and July.
But ahead of entering the final season of his three-year South Sydney contract before handing over to assistant coach Jason Demetriou, Bennett will direct all his energies towards delivering another title at Redfern.
"A week or so after Origin Wayne indicated that he wanted to focus on the Rabbitohs," QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher told NRL.com.
Maroons played to Queensland standard says Bennett
"He said straight away that he's always ready to help, and people that think he's lost his enthusiasm don't know him.
"But he was very grateful to the Rabbitohs for giving him the opportunity last year and now he wants to focus on 2021 and giving it a big shake this year.
"Now we've got our board meeting on January 29 and we'll have our review of Origin. That review has been completed but is yet to be discussed in any great detail.
"The most important thing to understand is that we will go through a board verified process to make sure we get the right person."
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Bennett has stressed repeatedly that he wants to coach on at club level once his South Sydney contract ends.
He made a storied return to the Queensland Origin fold for the first time in 16 years last November once Kevin Walters was appointed as Brisbane coach, engineering a 2-1 series triumph and blooding 14 Maroons debutants across the three games.
On the back of Bennett's brief stint and both Walters and Green interviewing for the Broncos job, the QRL has also resolved to make future coaching appointments on a 12-month basis.
The decision puts Green front and centre to take over the Maroons role in 2021 after he was moved on from North Queensland last year.
No contact has been made with the former Queensland playmaker or any other candidate to replace Bennett.
QRL director Rob Moore said that Bennett's early call and the scrapping the annual Emerging Maroons camp gives Queensland ample time to assess all candidates before the 2021 series.
"In January we'll go through a process with the board and look to make our appointment," Moore said.
"In a normal timeframe we would want [a replacement] by the middle of January but it's not as important this year because we're not going put any pressure on players and clubs by trying to run camps in January like we would normally.
"Because they're not on it's not as big a hurry. We'll have the same process as we did for Wayne's appointment for the new one, with a committee of three [QRL] directors going through that process."
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Given the truncated three-week Origin series last year and upheaval around COVID-19 and Walters' late exit, Green was not considered as Maroons coach with Bennett's influence preferred.
Hatcher said the QRL will conduct a full application process this time around with a view to appointing a new coach by late February.
The longtime Queensland powerbroker said Green's resume makes him an obvious candidate, while 2020 assistant Neil Henry is another that could fit the bill given his extensive experience in the Origin set-up of first Mal Meninga, and then Bennett last year.
"Obviously the standout at the moment is Paul Green because he's fully credentialed," Hatcher said.
"He's won an NRL premiership, he's been an assistant coach at another NRL premiership and he's played Origin.
"Last year we had to tell him straight that because of the circumstances where he came into the picture very late, we weren't going to go through the process and we said we wouldn't consider him for 2020 given the unique nature of that Origin series.
"But he's someone that will feature prominently for 2021 for sure."
The 2021 Origin series is scheduled to kick off on June 9, with games two and three on June 28 and July 14 respectively, with venues still to be confirmed.
A return to the MCG was flagged late last year by the NRL though which order the venues roll out in will be determined by crowd capacities and COVID-19 restrictions.