How Bennett nearly stole Te’o from under Broncos’ noses
New Broncos recruit Ben Te'o has revealed he weighed up a return to South Sydney this year after holding secret talks with Wayne Bennett to replace Sam Burgess at the Rabbitohs.
And Te'o has spoken of one of his great near misses - backflipping on a deal with the Cowboys in 2015 which would have seen him win a premiership with Queensland Origin champion Johnathan Thurston.
After a six-year NRL hiatus, Te'o made a shock comeback against Manly on Thursday night and the Brisbane veteran opened up to News Corp Australia on his remarkable sporting career in rugby league and rugby union.
Few NRL athletes can boast Te'o's extraordinary football resume.
He has played 153 NRL games, won a premiership at Souths, played State of Origin for Queensland, tested himself in Irish, English, French and Japanese rugby and represented England and the British and Irish Lions in the 15-a-side code.
It was Te'o's comprehensive achievements, and reputation as one of the NRL's most feared defenders, that convinced Bennett to make a furtive approach to the enforcer in the weeks after Burgess' retirement last year.
Brisbane last week brokered a short-term, $100,000 deal with Te'o, but Bennett was a step ahead of the Broncos, having devised a shrewd plan to bring the 33-year-old back to Redfern this year.
Te'o was playing in France with Toulon on a three-month contract late last year when he received a phone call from Australia.
It was NRL super coach Bennett.
"Wayne tried to get me to Souths this year," said Te'o, who played 17 minutes in Brisbane's 20-18 loss in his first NRL game in 2076 days.
"We'd spoken a couple of times over the years.
"I was in France last year and Wayne touched base with me. We spoke about me coming back. Like a few clubs, Souths had lost a bit of experience and Wayne was looking for an older guy like me to come in and help out.
"Wayne has tried to get me before. In 2015, I met with Wayne when he was coaching the Broncos and we spoke about me coming back from Ireland.
"Now Wayne is at Souths and we communicated again.
"I thought about going back to the Rabbitohs. Obviously, I have a great history with Souths, I won a premiership there and Wayne is a very convincing guy. I have always wanted to play for him. I really respect Wayne and we exchanged some text messages.
"But I chose the Broncos for two reasons. One, my partner is from Brisbane, her family is here and we are having a baby next month, so that was really important.
"And two, I just love the Broncos club and I wanted to wear that Brisbane jersey again."
The well-travelled Te'o is not a man to dwell on regrets but he will always wonder what could have been if he joined North Queensland for the 2015 season.
Te'o held talks with Cowboys bosses and was on the verge of signing. At the time, he was with Leinster in Irish rugby. The Cowboys went on to win a maiden title, with Thurston, his former Origin teammate, landing the extra-time field goal to break Brisbane's heart and clinch North Queensland's maiden premiership.
"People don't know this, but I almost came back to play for the Cowboys in 2015," he says.
"I had left Souths to play with Leinster. I came back to Brisbane for a break in the off-season. My coach who signed me was an Aussie, Matt O'Connor, and he got the sack while I was in Australia.
"I thought maybe I should not go back (to Ireland) and play in the NRL.
"I had talks with the Cowboys and I was really close to signing with them.
"My agent sorted it out. The deal was nearly done. I was dead serious about being a Cowboys player. But when the new coach at Leinster rang me and begged me to come back, I felt I had to do the right thing. I had signed a two-year deal with Leinster and I decided to honour the deal.
"The crazy thing is the Cowboys went on to win the premiership. I was really attracted to play with Johnathan Thurston and I always think I could have won a premiership with him."
Te'o is better qualified than most to appraise the standards of rugby union and rugby league at the elite levels. He says the NRL is the most demanding sport on the planet.
"I will say this now - nothing is like the NRL. Nothing," he says.
"There is no competition in the world like the NRL.
"In rugby, there are some very skilful athletes. The backs have some great talent and there are some really good athletes. Rugby has some massive humans, you have big South African props and now there is a lot of big Africans coming into the game and they are phenomenal athletes, right up there with Polynesians for power.
"But in rugby, the game never asks you to go to that place that rugby league does.
"The NRL pushes you to the brink. No matter how hard you train, how fit you are, you always get to that place where you feel you are going to die.
"The NRL is that demanding."
QUITTING THE NRL
Te'o explains why he dropped a bombshell by walking out on rugby league after winning a premiership at Souths.
"It was good timing for me to go," he says.
"To be honest I was starting to get burnt out. I was very focused on winning a premiership. My two years at Souths were more intense than I could describe. It was full on. That team was on a pursuit. We lived and breathed rugby league. Towards the end, we got the prize, but I was fully burnt.
"I needed to go away and I always had this itch to travel and see the world. I had heard about Six Nations and French rugby and I wanted to experience that.
"I absolutely loved my time in Ireland, it's one of the greatest countries on earth. The people were amazing and the guys at the club itself were fantastic.
"I have been there, done that, and seen it all. It has really matured me as a person.
"I'm glad I can say I didn't fail in rugby."
WORLD CUP BUST UP
Te'o played 16 Tests in rugby for England and two Tests for the British and Irish Lions. He played in front of 80,000 fans at Twickenham. But his England career ended in drama last August when he was involved in an alcohol-fuelled altercation with teammate Mike Brown during their World Cup training camp. The pair were kicked out by coach Eddie Jones, prompting Te'o to sign with Toulon.
"How do I explain this? There was an incident," Te'o says.
"I think a few people had too many beers and there was an altercation at a beach club in Italy, north of Venice.
"I went back to training the next day and I was informed the management weren't happy about it and they said you aren't going to the World Cup.
"I said no worries, that's the way it is. Everything happens for a reason. Playing for England was special for me. My mum was born in London and she came over a few times to see me play for England in front of 80,000 fans at Twickenham with all the singing.
"I will never forget about. It meant a lot because of my mum's heritage."
Te'o has only signed a five-month deal with the Broncos but hasn't ruled out continuing his NRL career next season.
"It all depends how I go this year," he said.
"I know the Broncos are trying to lock up some young guys like David Fifita and I don't want to get in their way.
"If I play well and the Broncos can afford me in the salary cap, I would love to stay around. It's not about money for me anymore ... it's about playing the game I have missed."
Originally published as How Bennett nearly stole Te'o from under Broncos' noses