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Wayne Bennett puts his legacy on the line by moving to Brisbane Broncos

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Chief Sports Writer, The Sydney Morning Herald

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Bennett returns to Broncos

Legendary coach Wayne Bennett is set to be lured back to coach the Brisbane Broncos in 2015.

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For everything that has happened during the last 40 years of Wayne Bennett's storied career, it is what happens in the next three at the Broncos that will define him as a coach.

As always, Bennett has masterfully manoeuvred to get what he wanted – a lucrative contract under which he will come home to Brisbane – but he will surely feel the heat like never before.

Back to Brisbane: Wayne Bennett.

Back to Brisbane: Wayne Bennett. Photo: Darren Pateman

The Bennett aura is fading or, at the very least, is significantly dented as he leaves Newcastle in a shambles a season earlier than expected. He left St George Illawarra in a similar position, but at least they had a long-awaited premiership to show for it.

There is a strong belief in the Hunter right now that he should resign immediately, after announcing weeks ago that he was abandoning them with one year remaining on his four-year deal.

Notwithstanding the difficult circumstances around Alex McKinnon's neck injury, and the Nathan Tinkler train crash, he leaves Newcastle with an ageing roster at a time when they are under the caretaker ownership of the NRL.

Bennett said he is leaving because he is embarrassed by results, when almost everyone else reckons it is about money.

The Knights have every right to have a feeling of abandonment. And, no matter which way it is spun, the Bennett legend has been blotted.

He has been working away at this outcome at the Broncos for months, but it's only over the past 48 hours that the deal was sealed.

After much politicking over the weekend, including a phone call to News Corp boss Lachlan Murdoch, whose company is a major shareholder in the Broncos, he returns home despite the doubts of some board members about whether the modern game has passed him by.

That is something the wider league community increasingly ponders after he failed to ignite the Knights.

They appreciate he is a father who is trying to pile up as much money for a life after football and a family that includes two children with special needs.

But they also see a coach who is money-hungry. They question if he is a coach who is just like any other when he is at the helm of a side not laden with Origin and international players.

Bennett would never care what anyone thinks, with the exception of those close to him, but there is certainly an expectation that he will deliver the Broncos a premiership in what looms as his final three years. Seriously, would you dare back against the 64-year-old?

There is little doubt Bennett will make many of those Broncos players better. The ilk of Ben Hunt, Andrew McCullough, Anthony Milford and, indeed, Ben Barba will improve under him.

His ability to lure players from other clubs – on a cheaper deal because he is, after all, Wayne Bennett – is a given.

He is also at the most well-resourced club in the NRL. He never had that at the Knights, because of Tinkler's empty promises.

Perhaps this was the reason he is heading home to the Broncos, instead of his second home at the Dragons given the joint venture's uncertain financial state.

Last Friday, this journalist reported that a deal was effectively done with the Dragons – although it would be premature to break out the Penfolds yet, because nothing is certain when it comes to Bennett.

Dragons chief executive Peter Doust was supremely confident he had his man, but others remember how much South Sydney thought the same thing in 2011 before Tinkler flashed his cheque book and Bennett signed with Newcastle in the final second of the 11th hour.

As someone who has known Bennett for decades said late on Thursday evening: "Bennett doesn't walk away from the final year of a deal as he has at the Knights unless he has another deal stitched up somewhere, and that is the Dragons."

But, in rugby league, like life, a deal is not a deal until the ink is drying on the contract. Even then, who knows?

On Friday, an influential former Bronco phoned.

"He's got the Dragons dangling on the line," he said. "Look, it won't surprise me if he still ends up there. But he wants to come home to the Broncos. He's working overtime to make it happen."

Fairfax Media's Roy Masters broke the story; Bennett phoned Murdoch on Sunday evening then Anthony Griffin was told he wasn't wanted and the Broncos announced the three-year deal on Monday afternoon.

Bennett observers will note the irony. The strong relationship between Bennett and Murdoch, which was forged during the Super League war, was said to be strained when Bennett agreed to join the Sydney Roosters in 2006.

At the time, the Roosters signing was the most intriguing chapter in the Bennett melodrama, not least when he reneged when news of the deal was leaked to the media.

Coaches are the game's most complex characters. There's madness in the method of all of them, from Jack Gibson to Phil Gould, Des Hasler and Craig Bellamy.

But Bennett intrigues the most because he has achieved so much and the legacy he may just bring down.

Twitter: @awebstar1

5 comments

  • Players announce they are leaving next year, and go for money. I don't think the 'modern game' has passed him by at all. He's just looking after himself in a professional era...

    Commenter
    who cares
    Location
    Sydeny
    Date and time
    July 21, 2014, 5:12PM
    • Care factor 0

      Commenter
      FROG
      Location
      MANLY
      Date and time
      July 21, 2014, 5:15PM
      • I predict failure for Wayne this time round at the Bronco`s, the man is desperate for that last big coin contract and the Bronco`s have foolishly delivered. The Knight`s should cut him loose now, the guy sometimes gets more respect than he deserves.

        Commenter
        Bullsroar
        Date and time
        July 21, 2014, 5:21PM
        • If Bennett was really leaving because he is embarrassed by the results, that says all we need to know about him.

          I'm sure he's embarrassed by the results, but I'd rank family reasons before that, and dollars ahead of all.

          Bennett's record speaks for itself, but the glory days are almost as far gone as my beloved Rabbitos.

          I think Bellyache is the best coach over the last decade, with Hassler closing in fast.

          Commenter
          Roger
          Location
          Surry Hills
          Date and time
          July 21, 2014, 5:30PM
          • When Bennett left the Dragons they were still a finals team. Player retention, recruitment and coaching after he left isn't really his problem.

            Yes his first season at the Knights was uninspiring, but we did finish 4th last season and few teams in the history of League have had adversity that the Knights have had this season.

            But where he has let himself and the Knights down is by doing a Ricky Stuart and walking away from the smoking ruin because he they got better offers elsewhere. Unforgivable.

            Wayne Bennett should hand the clipboard to Rick Stone and leave.

            Commenter
            Seano
            Date and time
            July 21, 2014, 7:57PM
            Comments are now closed

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