Where Will Benny Go?

Filed in Other by on February 11, 2011

Fans of Friday Night Lights lost their favourite coach this week, the series ending and coach Eric Taylor leaving Texas for Philadelphia. He left having built the East Dillon Lions program from something that did not exist into state champions. His title with East Dillon came four seasons after he guided the Dillon Panthers to state. Anyone who knows Texas football knows how impressive that record is. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. It was the mantra instilled into Coach Taylor’s teams. It was a winning mantra. Sure, it was all fictional but it still meant something and seeing coach leave Texas was a mighty heartbreaking realisation.

Fans of Brisbane know what that is like. Fans of St George-Illawarra are most likely about to find out.

Wayne Bennett is a free agent after the 2011 season and clubs are clamouring for his services. He is, of course, the greatest coach rugby league has ever known, a seven-time premiership winner and a culture-changer who can make it rain. Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose: Bennett instills a similar belef. Where will he end up? Making The Nut breaks it down.

Brisbane: It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Wayne Bennett will return to Red Hill as the saviour of the club he crafted into a the team of the 90s and arguably the strongest team of the last twenty years. Bruno Cullen, the man who drove Bennett from the Broncos, is now gone. Ivan Henjak will likely be fired by season’s end at latest, creating a vacancy. Bennett’s family live in Brisbane. He is a god to those north of the Tweed. It would be a fairytale return for the man considered the greatest coach rugby league has known. Three factors are counting against the fairytale though. First, Bennett is still plenty bitter about the way he was pushed out and how much of his legacy has been torn down. Secondly, Bennett’s goal may well be to become the first man to win a title at three clubs. He obviously cannot achieve said goal in Brisbane. Thirdly, Brisbane’s list is as bad as it has ever been and a premiership will not be easily attained. Bennett could come back the prodigal son but now he has left, he is likely gone for good.

Canberra: Many forget that Bennett’s first year in the big time was at Canberra in 1987 where he, along with Don Furner, guided the Raiders to their first Grand Final. Bennett is the man regarded as the tactician and the dominant coach of that '87 campaign. He won’t be returning to Canberra anytime soon though. The Furner boys run the racket down there and Don has just signed David to a completely unwarranted extension, putting Canberra out of the race for Bennett’s John Hancock.

Canterbury: Canterbury really should have chased Bennett hard in 2008 when they had the opportunity. Everybody, including this author, was singing Kevin Moore’s praises when he guided the Bulldogs to a preliminary final in 2009 but the disaster that was 2010 has Moore’s job in the balance this season. While it has been Canterbury tradition to hire from within and Moore certainly deserved his shot, it was arrogance of the highest order to cast the possibility of Bennett aside. Canterbury would have a title now if he had of been lured to Belmore. Canterbury are again in the mix for Bennett and while outsiders, he could well be leading the Bulldogs in 2012. If Canterbury have a good 2011, Moore will likely keep his job but if they struggle, Bennett will be pursued with vigour. The fit is good. Canterbury are a well-off organisation with plenty of resources and a talented young list who would benefit from Bennett’s experience, defence-oriented style and infusion of toughness. Counting against Canterbury, however, is a culture of success. Canterbury have won a title in each of the last three decades and made a Grand Final in each of the last five and they rarely miss the finals in consecutive years. The challenge may just not be there for Bennett if he wants to rescue a team as he did St George-Illawarra. I am hopeful that Bennett comes to Belmore but I am not expectant.

Cronulla: Jack Gibson finished off his career at Cronulla and the porch light is still on, waiting for Harold Holt to arrive. While the Sharks would surely make a mess of their trousers at the prospect of Bennett leading the way, the club has fallen well short with all-time great coaches like Chris Anderson, John Lang and Jack Gibson so it is questionable whether even Bennett could get the job done in the Shire. It would be the ultimate challenge for Bennett but he isn’t going to waste his time on a project that would take at least seven years. More pointedly, Cronulla can’t afford his pay cheque.

Gold Coast: The Gold Coast job would certainly be one that appeals to Bennett. The Titans are near enough to a title, the club is located close to his family, it is a well run organisation and Bennett has a good relationship with many of the players and coaching staff. The Titans will not be chasing Bennett though as they are extremely happy with coach John Cartwright with Titans chairman Paul Broughton saying last September “I think that John Cartwright will emulate Bennett in that he will become the first 21-year one-team coach”. The no vacancy sign is up at the Gold Coast right now.

Manly: A Wayne Bennett-Manly combination just doesn’t feel right, like the ultra-fat girl with the stick-thin nerdy guy, and it seems unlikely either would be interested in such a marriage. Manly have always been a reasonably successful club so Bennett would not be seen as a saviour and Manly are committed to Des Hasler, who club powerbrokers rate highly. Manly seem like one of the few Sydney clubs not in the hunt for his services.

Melbourne: No chance. Melbourne already have the next Bennett in Craig Bellamy, a two-time premiership winning coach who built a winning culture in a rugby league outpost. Bennett may see some challenge in resurrecting Melbourne after the salary cap drama of 2010 but the club does not have the tradition Bennett seeks, nor is it close to his family.

Newcastle: Wayne Bennett moving to Newcastle would be tremendous for rugby league. The Hunter is a rugby league heartland but the Knights have been a team in limbo since the retirement of Andrew Johns and, to a lesser extent, Danny Burdeus. Struggling financially and floundering both on and off the field, the Knights are a team in turmoil. The tide may be about to turn, however, with the sale of the club to Nathan Tinkler, if it goes through, set to have the Knights in a strong financial position for the first time in years. An open cheque book would certainly appeal to Bennett as would the resources Tinkler could bring to the club. With Tinkler on board, Newcastle should be considered behind only St George-Illawarra and South Sydney in terms of favouritism. If the sale falls through, the club couldn’t afford Bennett and they will continue to tread water.

New Zealand: Wayne Bennett has a burning desire to see rugby league in New Zealand succeed and he has helped the national team out no end but Bennett will not take a full-time job in Auckland, so far from his family. If Bennett went over, it would be the best thing that ever happened to the club but with a good coach in Ivan Cleary and very little chance of Bennett making the move across the ditch, it seems unlikely that the Warriors will make a serious play at the super coach.

North Queensland: Rumours have abounded for three years that Wayne Bennett was heading to Townsville. The Cowboys were considered prime contenders when Bennett left Brisbane and they are again highly favoured now his contract is up at the Dragons. It is all hooey though. Bennett is not going to Townsville. The reasons are plentiful too. For starters, Bennett and Gorden Tallis, a former Cowboys board member and still an influential figure in North Queensland, do not see eye-to-eye. Wayne Bennett has surely not been impressed with the way the club has treated coaches in the past, tearing through seven coaches in 16 seasons, unceremoniously firing coaching greats Tim Sheens and Graham Murray. It would seem doubtful that he would be overly impressed by the playing list. Johnathan Thurston’s off-field antics are surely not what he wants to deal with. And Townsville is no closer to his family than Sydney. Circumstances would have to change pretty dramatically for Bennett to end up as coach of North Queensland in 2012.

Parramatta: The impatient Eels board dumped Daniel Anderson a year after an unlikely Grand Final berth and have now hitched their wagon to Stephen Kearney. Bennett has a great deal of respect and admiration for Kearney and Parramatta, one would assume, won’t axe Kearney after only a season (though if any club would, it would be the Paul Osborne-led Eels). Bennett would also have a great deal of trouble dealing with the basket-case front office and board so that would be another deterrent. Wayne Bennett won’t be at Parramatta any time soon.

Penrith: Matt Elliott seems to be perpetually on thin ice at the Panthers and a slip down the table this season will see his job security again in question. It is tough to see Bennett ending up at Penrith though. Penrith is not the most desirable of locations, the team is not steeped in any great history and he must surely be concerned about the depth of talent he would have at his disposal. Penrith must be huge odds to get Bennett and it would take some real Petero grovelling to take him that far west.

St George-Illawarra: Wayne Bennett has achieved all he has to at the Dragons. In his first season he took the club to the minor premiership and by the end of year two he had provided the club with that elusive title. Bennett went to the Dragons because he wanted to return glory to a club steeped in history who had struggled to find premiership success in recent decades. That challenge is now gone. All indications suggest 2011 will be Bennett’s last year at the club. He has not signed an extension and refuses to commit to the club beyond the year. He has also reached the stage where he is chasing down history and he cannot achieve that at the Dragons. The incumbency advantage has the Dragons at the top of betting but the smart money will be on Bennett moving to a different club.

South Sydney: The stars seem to be aligning for the Bunnies. Their complete mediocrity for the last quarter-century could be the club’s best friend. Bennett has a deep desire to see traditionally strong clubs find past glories and few teams have fallen as far as the Bunnies. Bennett would have been no hope of going to Redfern before Russell Crowe arrived, no matter what their history, but with money and a genuine desire for success at the club these days, Bennett could well be lured. Greg Inglis’ defection to South Sydney looks a fair indicator that Bennett could be headed to South Sydney as is their current coach John Lang, a clear transition coach who is unlikely to go beyond 2011. Wayne Bennett is already regarded as rugby league’s finest clipboard holder but he will reach a most-lofty status if he can bring a title to Redfern. South Sydney should be favourites for Bennett’s services.

Sydney Roosters: Wayne Bennett very nearly signed with the Roosters in 2007 but that deal went horribly awry when his move south was leaked by the Roosters camp. Bennett subsequently reneged on the alleged deal and the result was a river of bad blood between the seven-time premiership winning coach and Sydney Roosters powerbroker Nick Politis. The Roosters now have Brian Smith and are smitten with him after he led them to a Grand Final in 2010 and are likely to stick with him for a while yet. It is hard to imagine a Bennett coached Roosters team while Nick Politis is still pulling the strings.

Wests Tigers: For reasons not entirely clear, moves seem to be afoot to shuffle Tim Sheens on. Sheens’ ability is, admittedly, tough to gauge but off an impressive 2010, he should be safe. Seemingly that isn’t the case, however, with rumours persisting that any number of coaches could be in contention to replace the most capped coach in Australian rugby league. How much truth there is in these rumours though is anyone’s guess. If there was to be an opening at the Tigers, Bennett would certainly be interested. He is extremely fond of Benji Marshall, he is appreciative of the attacking flair at the club and he would inherit a team with the pieces to win a title. Sheens getting fired though is just a little far fetched for my liking, however, so Bennett to the Tigers has to be rated unlikely.

Market (to 100%)

$3.75- South Sydney

$4.00- St George-Illawarra

$7.50- Canterbury

$9.00- Newcastle

$13.00- North Queensland


$17.00- Wests Tigers

$101.00- Penrith

$201.00- Canberra, Gold Coast, Manly,  New Zealand, Parramatta

$501.00- Cronulla, Sydney Roosters

$1001.00- Melbourne






Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images AsiaPac


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  1. Michaelson says:

    No price on retirement of other? He's getting on a bit!