Kent: The problem of following Wayne Bennett

The view from Mount Wayne was once fascinating and positive.

It was a place from where you could only look forward and where, it now becomes clear, there was never a sunset.

Within hours of South Sydney releasing news that Jason Demetriou has been appointed head coach for 2022 Wayne Bennett, the Mount Rushmore of rugby league, was declaring he intends coaching elsewhere in the NRL.

There will be no sunset yet.

Now, several days later, news breaks that Brisbane's David Fifita is said to be considering a move to South Sydney next year.

 

This must come as some shock to the Broncos, an organisation that helped Fifita when he was locked up in a Bali jail following an alleged altercation with a nightclub bouncer. Because this is rugby league, they privately thought their involvement there was enough to buy a level of loyalty from Fifita to extend his deal.

Not only is Brisbane shocked, but this should rattle the Rabbitohs to the core.

Bennett always preached from the Jack Gibson book that went "always leave a club in a better place than when you found it" and, when Mount Wayne's word was still meant something we were all happy to accept his version of a club in a good place.

Not so much anymore.

 

Ivan Henjak succeeded Bennett at the Broncos but couldn’t escape his shadow.
Ivan Henjak succeeded Bennett at the Broncos but couldn’t escape his shadow.

 

The builder of clubs has shaped himself as a hired gun since his premiership at the Dragons in 2010. Now he is a guy brought in to do the job necessary to get a squad to grow from potential to achievement.

He is unapologetic about it. It is easy to be bullish when you are having success.

Enough has happened now to force the Rabbitohs to take a stronger hand in the club's future for what will be Bennett's final two years.

Bennett left the Broncos in 2008 and Ivan Henjak was promoted from within to take the job.

Henjak finished sixth in his first season and then failed to make the finals his second year around and that was all the Broncos needed to see.

Henjak, with a 27-24 record, was gone. The Broncos took some time to recover.

 

Steve Price watched Bennett leave with some of the Dragons’ best players.
Steve Price watched Bennett leave with some of the Dragons’ best players.

 

Bennett told the Dragons his assistant Steve Price was ready for the head role when he left St George Illawarra after 2011 but then did him few favours.

He took Darius Boyd, Alex McKinnon and Adam Cuthbertson with him, and then Beau Scott the following year, and that plus a salary cap under pressure was soon the end for Price.

He lasted almost three seasons, sacked with a 22-36 record.

Bennett was in Newcastle by then, where he gambled. Owner Nathan Tinkler was losing money quicker than a drunken gambler and the Knights' brief interlude as a premiership force was fading.

He abandoned the club's junior nursery to go to market for seasoned players and the quick fix. Nothing wrong with that, so long as it works.

 

Rick Stone paid the assistant coach’s price at Newcastle.
Rick Stone paid the assistant coach’s price at Newcastle.

 

Willie Mason and Craig Gower were signed, and several others, but after getting within a game of the grand final in his second season it turned sour the following year when McKinnon was seriously injured.

He sacked himself, and lit up the highway to Brisbane. Rick Stone, endorsed by Bennett for the job, lasted 18 games before he was sacked.

Tell me that does not make Demetriou nervous.

All three came recommended by Bennett and all three were sacked and have failed to find another head coaching job in the NRL since.

 

Jason Demetriou must be ready to make the Rabbitohs his own. Photo: AAP Image/Dave Hunt
Jason Demetriou must be ready to make the Rabbitohs his own. Photo: AAP Image/Dave Hunt

 

Bennett remains a Pied Piper coach.

Players will follow him from club to club, players will perform for him like they can't with others, and often the magic at a club is Bennett's magic, simply on loan to the club.

Bennett will spend the next two seasons trying to win the Rabbitohs a premiership and also trying to set up his new job, wherever that might be.

The Rabbitohs are said to be unaware of any interest from Fifita but that means nothing anymore.

It might be correct, or it might be journos just sitting around in coffee shops and making it up, like Bennett alleged last year when word surfaced that James Roberts was heading to Souths.

Or it might be a lie, so easy to tell nowadays, as Bennett confirmed when Roberts really did land at Souths and he said he had to lie to put the journos off the scent.

With Mount Wayne now moving on, and Souths looking to rebuild and hang on to what they have, it makes for interesting times.