Bennett breaks Canberra hoodoo as Knights stay on a roll
Raiders 6 Knights 36
Kevin Naiqama of the Knights attempts to pull Blake Ferguson of the Raiders over the try line. Photo: Getty Images
HE'S the game's most-decorated coach but Newcastle mentor Wayne Bennett has felt the pain of leaving Canberra Stadium a shattered man more than most.
And his advice to Canberra coach David Furner after the Knights' 36-6 win yesterday was simple - it happens to the best of us.
Bennett arrived at Newcastle this year as the saviour but suffered a brutal initiation when his new team lost their first five matches.
Josh Dugan of the Raiders is tackled by Chris Houston of the Knights. Photo: Getty Images
Yesterday's win, the Knights' third in succession, was Bennett's first in six matches against Furner-coached sides and puts them on the cusp of the top eight.
The Dragons lost to the Raiders all four times during the Bennett era, and Canberra also beat the Novocastrians in round 14 this season.
Bennett's sides have featured in the past 20 finals series, but his rare early season slump means he can now relate to Furner's plight.
Raiders suffer a Knightmare
Raiders player Reece Robinson tackles Knights player Akuila Uate. Photo: Melissa Adams
The seven-time premiership winner remains close to the Furner family, having coached the Raiders to the grand final alongside Dave's father Don in 1987.
''I can't give him much advice; I've needed some myself recently,'' Bennett quipped in his typical deadpan manner. ''The season's not over yet; there's a possibility of them winning five games [to make the finals].
''It's just footy mate. The Melbourne Storm has lost five in a row, and who would have thought that, the way they started the footy season? Who would have thought we would do what we did today the way we were playing seven or eight weeks ago? It's a crazy competition.
''But that [unpredictability] is what the league is designed for, that's what they want. It makes it great for everybody involved if you're a fan, [but] if you're a coach it's a nightmare.''
Based on yesterday's display, there's no doubt the Knights are capable of causing some damage should Bennett make it 21 September appearances in a row. Their back five are among the most potent in the NRL, their forward pack is industrious, and halves Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts are controlling matches in St George-esque fashion.
''Of course I'm pleased [with the turnaround] - it's been a tremendous effort by them [the players],'' Bennett said. ''Zero [wins] and five [losses] - you're wondering where your season's going and they've been tremendous since then.''
Furner said his team needed to take a page out of Bennett's play book and adopt a more patient and grinding game plan.
''I was confident at only 12-0 down [at half-time] that we just needed that composure to get through our sets,'' Furner said. ''But we had a couple of fundamental errors that invited them straight back in and they made us pay for those errors.
''Their style of play through Wayne is real St George-type football - when they need to build energy through their defence, they kicked the ball out and made us start sets from set starts.''
While he knows the anguish the Raiders were feeling, Bennett was relishing the rare treat of leaving the capital with two premiership points.
''I've done a lot of trips out to Canberra,'' he said. ''I loved my time at the Dragons but we'd always find a way to get beaten [here].''