What is happening up in sunny Brisbane? Beautiful one day, battling NRL team the next. The Broncos are struggling and their coach Wayne Bennett has never been under so much pressure (so they say).
Yes the Broncos haven’t started the season well.
Is Bennett feeling the heat? Probably not.
Despite winning all those premierships, Bennett has felt anguish too. He is the great survivor. A master of man management. Bennett and the Broncos have been here before. You can’t win them all and you don’t win a title in April. Bennett knows better than anyone that sometimes you have to shovel some shit to get where you want to go.
Last weekend they were battered and bruised by a far more committed Newcastle outfit. The 15-10 score flattered the visiting Queensland side.
But this is not Bennett’s darkest hours as a coach. This is a walk in the park.
Asked after the Newcastle loss if he’d make changes, Bennett quipped: “We’ve got the best players in the club playing.”
That says it all.
So let’s talk about the times when Bennett was really under pressure.
Like in 1999 when his team – the defending premiers – went 0-5 to start the year. After ten rounds they’d only won one game and sat in dead last. Two weeks prior they lost the club’s biggest star in Allan Langer to a shock retirement. Prime Minister John Howard was one of many to publically thank Langer for his contribution to the game. That wasn’t going to help Bennett though. His team was last on the table and had lost their captain and halfback.
The catalyst for their comeback came in the form of a gusty 12-10 victory over Balmain at Leichhardt Oval. From there, they won 11 straight and qualified for the playoffs.
Now that’s pressure.
What about in October 1989 when Bennett sent shockwaves through the game by sacking the legendary Wally Lewis? This just wasn’t anyone. This was “The King” – the incumbent Australian and Queensland captain. Bennett’s ruthless move which saw Lewis finish his career at the Gold Coast Seagulls stemmed from a frustrating debut in the NSWRL. A few years later they broke through for their maiden premiership and quickly became the benchmark of rugby league in the 1990’s.
You want pressure? Go tell Wally Lewis to pack his bags because he’s no longer required.
A couple of losses to start 2018 doesn’t seem so significant after all.
This could finally be the end of Bennett’s career after over 30 years in the top grade. After all, coaches are hired to be fired. They all eventually fall on their swords. But haven’t we been here before? We feed on a jealously of Brisbane and apparent good favour from the NRL. We’re built to hate them. Time is catching up to Bennett but the last thing a boxer loses is his knockout punch.
We’d be silly to say this is the end.