The Wayne Bennett coaching tree and how his long, chiseled fingers have left prints right across the National Rugby League




Wayne James Bennett has been doing this rugby league coaching thing for a while. So long in fact, that many of us weren’t even a twinkle in our father’s eye back in 1976 when a 26-year-old Bennett took control of Ipswich in the old Brisbane premiership.

His rival this Thursday, Jason Demetriou, was only a few months old at the time.

For so long those in rugby league land south of the Tweed scoffed at Bennett’s accomplishments. Tossed out stuff about the talent in his old Brisbane Broncos squad. A team that featured a long list of superstars headlined by Allan Langer, Glenn Lazarus, Kevin Walters, Wendell Sailor, Steve Renouf, Gorden Tallis and so on and so on.

There were so many guns at Bennett’s disposal, it was easy to give it to the lanky, tall cowboy with the dry smile.

Many forget what he did at the Canberra Raiders in 1987 and everything he did before that in the local Brisbane competition.

The fact is, Wayne Bennett surpassed his hero Jack Gibson a long way ago.

He’s an icon.

A magical figure that has warmed more to his character as his career has gone on.

Bennett is a master tactician of what happens between the ears of each player he coaches. His battles at press conferences and his duels with hapless journalists over the years are the things of legend.

Many believed the Dolphins would run dead last in their first season in 2023.

It was the tiny spark and the only thing he needed for his underdog Redcliffe misfits, journeymen and rookies.

Yet here we are, after six rounds with the Dolphins sitting inside the top four with a 4-2 record. They’ve knocked off the Sydney Roosters, North Queensland away in Townsville and grinded out victories over the Raiders and Newcastle.

Bennett is like some of the great Hollywood characters.

As good as a villain as he is a hero.

Thursday night’s flick against his former club South Sydney and his former apprentice Demetriou isn’t Bennett’s first rodeo. He’s been here a thousand times before.

He lives on it.

Fronting the media on Wednesday, Bennett explained his plan for Demetriou which was meant for the Broncos before they unceremoniously axed him in 2018.

Another immortal battle – Bennett versus the Broncos.

“It was my idea and I took the idea with me (to the Rabbitohs)”, Bennett said.

“I realised I was running out of time coaching-wise and the best and most successful clubs are the ones that have the long-term coaches.

“They had just had a coach that left and then I came in and that was the next step. “That was the plan we had for the Broncos, but they didn’t want to buy into that, so Jason could have been coach of the Broncos.

“But that wasn’t what they wanted to do, so they went their way and Souths were keen to do something like that and Jason came to Sydney.

“He moved to Brisbane to be up there and be coach of the Broncos from St George and Townsville.

“He had been to a number of places and we enacted the plan after my first year there to make sure it was all locked in and he knew what his future was.”

Bennett has his fingerprints on almost everything.

Current NRL coaches who perhaps don’t know Bennett that intimately still have the great coach to thank in one way or another.

If it wasn’t for Bennett, his old understudy Craig Bellamy wouldn’t have been ready to take on the Melbourne Storm in 2003 and we all know what happened after that.

Because of the Bennett “coaching tree”, by extension under Bellamy, we now have Brad Arthur, Adam O’Brien and Anthony Seibold working as current head coaches in the NRL. 2014 premiership-winning Souths coach and current Kiwis boss Michael Maguire also did time under Bellamy.

Throw potential new St George Illawarra coach Jason Ryles in there too.

Current, albeit embattled Dragons coach Anthony Griffin, also worked under Bennett at the Broncos.

When Griffin became head coach at the Broncos – it was a guy called Kristian Woolf who cut his teeth.

Now he’s the heir apparent at the Dolphins.

Kevin Walters spent years playing under Bennett.

The 2015 North Queensland Cowboys coach that slayed Bennett in that classic grand final?

Paul Green?

He was an assistant at the Broncos under Bennett for many seasons.

Ivan Henjak, Steve Price, the list goes on.

Two other candidates for the potential job at the Dragons are Ben Hornby and Dean Young.

Those two won a premiership under Bennett at the Saints in 2010.

Round 6: 2023 Beetson Raudonikis Medal

Mal Meninga – the Australian Kangaroos coach that won all those State of Origin series not long ago?

He debuted as a player for Souths (Brisbane) in 1979.

His coach was Wayne Bennett.

Coached Meninga again at Souths Brisbane in 1984 and 1985.

Meninga would then star for the Raiders in their first ever NSWRL grand final appearance in 1987 before going down to Manly at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The coach?



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