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Never knock a champion - especially one called Bennett

Winning Starts Monday

Back winning ... Wayne Bennett at training with Newcastle.

Back winning ... Wayne Bennett at training with Newcastle. Photo: Simone De Peak

With Newcastle now on track for a top eight berth, Wayne Bennett is set to collect a reported $500,000 bonus for steering the Knights to the finals in his first year as coach.

If he does so, Bennett will maintain his remarkable record of having coached in the play-offs every season since 1992 when he took the Broncos to their first premiership.

Yet it is only a month ago that this column was being bombarded by emails and Twitter messages questioning his coaching ability after Newcastle had crashed to five successive losses.

"Can I ask why Bennett seems to be a protected species. Any other coach in his position would have been scrutinised by the media by now," one reader asked.

At least she did it politely.

Others weren't fit to print - even now - but the tone was usually about Bennett having only achieved his record as the game's most successful coach because of the star-studded line-ups under his charge at Brisbane and St George Illawarra.

Now that he didn't have the same quality of players at the Knights, they reasoned the shortcomings of the seven-times premiership winning mentor were exposed for all to see - except the media.

Given Nathan Tinkler's history of falling out with horse trainers, such as Anthony Cummings, many predicted that Bennett would not see out his four-year contract, which is believed to include bonuses of $500,000 for making the finals and $1 million for winning the premiership.

Dressing room footage shown on The Footy Show of Tinkler putting his hand into Bennett's pocket and taking the coach's hand out to shake it after Bennett had appeared to ignore him while he addressed the players following another defeat was seen as evidence that their relationship was already on the rocks.

But you don't win a grand final every three years on average during the past two decades without being a great coach, and in this business if you put the boot into someone like Bennett when he appears to be down you will soon be the one copping a kicking.

Ditto for the likes of Tim Sheens, Brian Smith and Craig Bellamy, whose teams are now struggling but have proven themselves over the years.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly what Bennett has done to change around the fortunes of the Knights so dramatically but a turning point may have been their 34-14 defeat by South Sydney in round 18.

After the loss, Bennett quickly diverted attention away from his team's performance by slamming match officials for not stopping the game immediately when rookie forward Kyle O'Donnell was knocked out in a big hit by Sam Burgess.

Since then, Newcastle have won three successive games against Manly, the Warriors and the Raiders in Canberra to claim a share of equal eighth position with the Titans and Tigers.

With matches against the Bulldogs, Sharks, Sea Eagles, Cowboys and Rabbitohs, the Knights have arguably the toughest run home of the six teams battling for eighth spot but if Bennett's men make the finals they will be in form and full of confidence.

6 comments so far

  • The Knights won't make the finals unfortunately - most of their good recent form has been against sides in the bottom half of the ladder, and they have a very tough run home. Still, congratulations to Bennett and his team for giving themselves some respectability and the fans something to look forward to next year.

    Date and time
    July 30, 2012, 1:27PM
    • Wouldn't call Manly, Warriors and Tigers bottom half of the ladder. Nor would I dismiss winning in Auckland and Canberra in back to back outings. Id like to see someone come up with a side that has done that ever, I bet you none have.

      They have a great chance at making the finals, despite a very tough draw.

      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 1:51PM
    • whilst I tend to agree that the Knights may struggle to make the finals I wouldnt say beating teams outside the 8 is an accomplishment. At the moment the only team in the 8 showing form would be the dogs, souths and maybe manly. Its all the teams out of the 8 that are showing form at the moment (other than Sydney)

      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 2:13PM
    • Grant, the Warriors are 10th and the Tigers 12th - in a 16 team comp, that is bottom half of the ladder. Canberra have been abysmal at home this year, five out of the last six games at Bruce they have conceded more than 30 points.
      The Knights have improved form, but haven't played any of the contenders yet. They play the Bulldogs next weekend.

      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 2:45PM
    • The Tigers were in the 8 when they lost to the knights, and they aren't 12th now anyway. They are in 10th position, in fact they are in a four way tie for 8th place and are only not in it on points differential, so it is hard for you to say that they aren't a top 8 quality side. The same can be said for the warriors, they are definitely a quality side and it is a good effort by the Knights to beat them across the ditch.

      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 9:16PM
  • Ditto for Brian Smith?

    Comparing the accomplishments of the other coaches listed and Brian Smith is a joke. Brian Smith has NEVER won a Premiership. Ever. His teams are perennial runners up.

    Date and time
    July 31, 2012, 9:35PM

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