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. 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. 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.