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Wayne Bennett signing with Broncos saved Dragons from two-month soap opera

The steady: Dragons coach Paul McGregor.

The steady: Dragons coach Paul McGregor. Photo: Getty Images

Wayne Bennett’s signing with the Broncos has saved St George Illawarra from a two-month teenage TV soap opera with the Dragons cast as the baddies – prepared to dump the steady girlfriend to woo the class hottie who has not only spurned them once before but has always been in love with her first boyfriend.

Paul ''Mary'' McGregor is the steady – the NRL club’s co-captain in  its first grand final; an assistant coach with the Dragons until cast aside by Bennett in his First Coming as St George Illawarra coach.

Bennett would have played the role of the hot chick – a seven times premiership coach, including the 2010 trophy with St George Illawarra, who left the club for the Knights, with one Dragons board member telling me ''I never thought he would leave''.

The hot chick: Former Knights and incumbant Broncos coach Wayne Bennett.

The hot chick: Former Knights and incumbant Broncos coach Wayne Bennett. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

The old boyfriend is the Broncos – the club Bennett served for 20 years and was the foundation coach, to which he has now returned for the 2015-17 seasons for a reported $4 million.

Had the Dragons negotiated with Bennett over the next two months, it would have undermined a  regeneration process under McGregor where the club  is just now returning to what it was when the master coach announced he was leaving midway through 2011.

St George Illawarra certainly would not want to have been put in the position of South Sydney, who were forced to negotiate with Bennett twice in 2011.

The old boyfriend: the Broncos.

The old boyfriend: the Broncos. Photo: Getty Images

Bennett was very close to signing with the Rabbitohs but hyped up his negotiations with the Broncos, only for them to fail.

He went back to South who were still angry at the earlier snub, only for Nathan Tinkler’s chief executive, Ken Edwards, to enter the market and secure a four-year deal with the Knights.   

This time, Bennett’s machinations have had a minimal effect on other clubs. Contrary to reports, he did not reject an offer of $800,000 to stay in Newcastle. Money was never mentioned. In fact, he pointed out to the new stewards of the Knights how much they could save by him surrendering his Tinkler contract for next year. The Titans founder, Michael Searle, had already made an approach.

But when Brisbane director Tony Joseph, a fan of Bennett, met with him in Newcastle after returning from a business trip to Canberra - as you do - it was all over. 

After six years away from his family, Bennett wanted to return home and the Dragons were saved from further messy negotiations which would have undermined the regeneration process.

It’s taken three years for the Dragons to recover from the immediate downward spiral that followed the mid-season message he was going; the loss of five players he took to Newcastle and the retirement of the key assets – Ben Hornby, Dean Young and Matt Cooper – he avoided telling to hang up the boots.   

Bennett’s successor at the Dragons, Steve Price, was not able to lift the club, while McGregor has, although he must  simplify the attack and force halfback Benji Marshall to commit himself in defence.

Both coaches will agree it is better to be the coach who follows the coach who follows the legend.

The Dragons have never known why Bennett left in 2011. Some believe it was to become the first coach in history to win premierships at three clubs.

He certainly brought an aged list to Newcastle.

If the Knight’s then owner, Tinkler, said, ''I want a trophy in the cabinet now'', then Bennett’s recruitment of veteran players was justified. If Tinkler said ''Rebuild the club'', Bennett failed.

Although Bennett succeeded at St George Illawarra for the reason he was appointed – to win a craved-for premiership after a 30-year drought – he failed both with the Dragons and Knights in achieving what many coaches believe is their ultimate responsibility: to leave a club in a better place than they found it.

Some St George Illawarra figures believe Bennett left saying ''I don’t have the energy to rebuild the club''. He was 61 then and will be 67 when he finished his new contract with the Broncos.

Perhaps he believes the Brisbane club does not require a rebuild, merely minor renovations.

While half the pack are aged 29 to 31, the Broncos do have some exciting backs, including four fullbacks if Darius Boyd follows him from Newcastle.

Bennett has promised Lachlan Murdoch, boss of club owners News Ltd, he can turn the club around.

But football clubs are like ocean liners, taking ages to change direction when someone falls overboard, as the Dragons have discovered these past three years.

12 comments so far

  • Is a name change on the way for the Brisbane Broncos in the light of WB re-locating back to what obviously was his first Love? Perhaps the Opportunistic Ogres might be apt; given the way that certain staff (and players) are given the flick at the first sign of failure!

    Who would want to work for them, and just who would see value in belonging to a Club with such a flawed ethos?

    Commenter
    Cicero
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    July 22, 2014, 8:14PM
    • While there was a sense of anticipation that Bennett would rejoin the Dragons, I am actually glad all the speculation is over because it had taken on aspects of a soap opera as Masters' suggests. Given an almost unique opportunity to "humanize" himself during last week's interview in respect to Alex McKinnon, I am very surprised that Masters did not weave Bennett's handling of brand "Bennett" into this article because it is impossible to ignore the timing of his departure from the Knights (the week leading up to the TV interview) and his decision to take the money and run (the week after). Call me a cynic, but that's all just too coincidental for me. As a longterm Dragons' fan, these last three years have been miserable for the very reasons that Masters commented on and yet Peter Doust, Bennett's chief ally during his tenure at the Club, remains unscathed and seemingly unaccountable for strategies he implemented. The Knights are in for a tough few years post-Bennett, just like the Dragons have been, and the Broncos were too after Bennett left that Club the first time.

      Commenter
      Steve
      Location
      Arizona, USA
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 12:39AM
      • I have to say, that was a very good article Roy. One thing I will add is that before Bennett arrived at our club, we always had an abundance of young talent coming though. Ever since then the talent appears to have dried up. Hopefully Wes Lolo and Jack Bird can become good first graders.

        Commenter
        Devout Saint
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        July 23, 2014, 12:58AM
        • So Bennett is going to turn the Broncos around.Going on the game last weekend they seem headed in the right direction!

          Commenter
          Jacko
          Location
          Warriorville
          Date and time
          July 23, 2014, 6:35AM
          • The club (Broncos) doesn't need turning around . It has already turned around and going quite nicely thank you, Mr Bennett.

            Commenter
            Roma Boy
            Date and time
            July 23, 2014, 7:37AM
            • Don't let the truth get in the way of your article. First, Peter Doust would not sign Bennett to a contract longer than 3 years saying that he did not believe in longer terms for coaches, despite signing that failure Nathan Browne to a 5 year deal. We all know why that was. He also tried to sign Craig Bellamy to a 5 year deal. No Bennett would have been happy for a extension. The second point is that when Wayne Bennett signed with the Dragons, membership went to record levels, sponsorship went to record levels, corporate boxes were sold out and had a long waiting list. Look at the club now, membership has fallen, sponsorship has fallen. The club is in dire financial circumstances. The major benefactor over the years, the WIN Corporation is calling in the loans owed. Why? It can be summed up in one word DOUST

              Commenter
              Gillies
              Location
              Tuross Head NSW
              Date and time
              July 23, 2014, 8:25AM
              • Most dragons fans are very happy Bennett is not coming back. We still have serious issues and the club will go nowhere while Doust and Young are calling the shots and with a complicit board that doesn't seem to hold anyone accountable but the coach. They need big props for next year and frankly Quinlan at full back is not working at all. Dugan needs to go back there or someone else with size, speed and power.

                Commenter
                daffy
                Date and time
                July 23, 2014, 9:41AM
                • Well said Roy. As a longtime St George man there were just too many unanswered questions about Bennett's tenure at the Dragons: was it an open ended contract; was it 3 years or until there was a Premiership Win? Only Doust and Bennett will know the correct answer to these questions. As for Price as the coach who followed the legend well the main problem was that the apprenticeship was a year short. Had Price had 4 years to learn the ropes and had a proper player succession plan developed the pain of 2012/13 might have been avoided. What Doust has to explain to the Dragons fans is "why was Price given the one year extension in April 2013" when it was clear to all and sundry that the team was going nowhere under his coaching. McGregor might be the saving hope but he still needs another major signing in the front row - following Michael Weymen's departure at the end of 2013 the Dragons now have the smallest front row structure in the NRL. So Doust get out the cheque book and buy us a 115kg "big boper".

                  Commenter
                  saint mike II
                  Location
                  Kiama Downs
                  Date and time
                  July 23, 2014, 9:45AM
                  • Well put, Roy.

                    You didn't add that he left Brisbane in much the same state as he leaves STI and The Knights.

                    Part of me thinks that he is about his own legacy and decimating a place he's leaving is part of ensuring his legacy "Look what the place came to without me".

                    I'm a Broncos supporter but I reckon I'd like to have seen Hook given another year for his re-generation to be complete. If Bennett wins a premiership, it'll look like he's been the man, when in fact he's riding on the rebuild of another coach.

                    Unless Broncs win this year, which one can only hope for such a class coach.

                    Commenter
                    Fred
                    Location
                    Here
                    Date and time
                    July 23, 2014, 9:58AM
                    • Did the broncos swap an up and coming coach who has got Brisbane within reach for a once great couch who is over the hill?

                      Commenter
                      bronte
                      Date and time
                      July 23, 2014, 1:59PM

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