“Wayne is safe and he will see out his deal,” Souths chief executive Blake Solly told The Sun-Herald.
“It’s ridiculous to suggest otherwise. We were extremely close to a grand final appearance last year, despite having a number of players unavailable because of injuries throughout the year.
“We have great confidence in Wayne, his staff and players that 2020 will also be a strong year. The club remains hugely impressed with what Wayne brings, on and off the field, and he will definitely see out his deal.”
Bennett said he did nothing wrong by staying quiet about his knowledge of Walker’s December 1 dust-up, even though NRL rules make it clear clubs must inform the league of incidents that could bring the game into disrepute.
Souths have asked the NRL for more information as they weigh up whether to appeal the penalty. In particular, they want to know how the governing body arrived at Walker’s two-match ban.
One integrity-related incident that continues to baffle clubs is David Fifita’s arrest and time in a Bali jail in November for allegedly assaulting a bouncer. The Broncos forward escaped sanction from the NRL.
The integrity unit used Melbourne giant Nelson Asofa-Solomona’s Bali brawl and three-Test ban as a guide for Walker’s penalty. Like Asofa-Solomona, Walker was caught on camera fighting but wasn’t charged by police.
Souths only learnt of the Asofa-Solomona and Walker comparisons when they read about it in the media.
Bennett will need to be at his wily best to get Souths to lift against their bitter rivals on Friday night. The loss of Walker for two matches means Troy Dargan will make his debut against the Roosters after coming close to an NRL start at junior club Parramatta and then the Broncos.
The 22-year-old playmaker trained with the starting 13 on Saturday.
Roberts rejoined the likely 17 midway through the session after gaining clearance to join his Souths teammates following a stint in a rehabilitation facility, where he was treated for depression and anxiety.
He struggled without the routine of rugby league during the COVID-19 shutdown and would have dreaded having to isolate for another 14 days.
Roberts was one of the first players at Redfern, at 9.16am, and sported a new haircut and blue boots. He looked in good physical condition, passed the ball with mate Latrell Mitchell then took part in his first field session since the competition was suspended two months ago.
It will be up to Bennett if Roberts is rushed back into the starting side, which would force Campbell Graham out of right centre and back to the left wing.
Mitchell learnt on Friday his fine for breaching social-distancing rules for hosting a group of mates, including Josh Addo-Carr, on his North Coast property would be upheld. NRL acting chief executive Andrew Abdo contacted him personally to let him know.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.