MICHAEL Maguire looks destined to be heading back to the NRL at the end of this season.
The Warriors coach yesterday firmed as the favourite to take over at South Sydney for 2012, after Wayne Bennett opted for Newcastle Knights instead.
Maguire and chairman Ian Lenagan both refused to talk about the intensifying speculation last night.
“I have no comment to make,” was all Lenagan would say – a response echoed word-for-word by Maguire. Souths chief executive Shane Richardson was also tight-lipped. “I’ve no comment,” he said.
The former Melbourne Storm assistant arrived at Wigan ahead of last season, and guided the club to their first Grand Final triumph in 12 years. His success alerted NRL club bosses, with Maguire first linked with the Russell Crowe-owned Rabbitohs back in February.
But Bennett’s decision to leave St George-Illawarra at the end of 2011 meant they deferred making a decision until yesterday, when the ex-Brisbane mentor chose Newcastle for next year – a move that shifted Maguire to Souths’ No.1 target.
Maguire has a two-year deal with Wigan with an option for a third season – in the club’s favour. If he has no get-out clause, the Warriors could chase compensation from the Rabbitohs.
Some reports last night suggested the deal was all but complete, and an announcement on his appointment, believed to be for three years, may happen as soon as this week.
Souths’ English forward Sam Burgess told reporters Down Under that Wigan players in last year’s Four Nations squad had spoken highly of the 37-year-old coach.
“The Wigan guys were very positive about him and said he brought in high standards and had some good theories,’’ said Burgess.
Maguire’s old boss, Melbourne head coach Craig Bellamy, added: “He would do a great job.”
If Maguire decided to leave at the end of this season, attention will soon shift to who will succeed him in the Wigan hot-seat.
Assistant coach Shaun Wane would appear the obvious choice, but other candidates may include Bennett’s St George-Illawarra assistant coach – and ex-Warriors favourite – Adrian Lam. One national newspaper today claimed Wigan legend Shaun Edwards may also be in the frame.