Written by Oliver Kellner-Dunk
Wayne Bennett is one of, if not the greatest coach in professional Rugby League history.
His experience as a head coach goes back nearly 50 years now, with over 800 caps as a club coach under his belt, and representative gigs for Queensland, Australia, England and Great Britain, winning multiple State of Origin series with the Maroons and seven premierships at clubland, with the super coach also being named Dally M Coach of the Year on three occasions in 1987, 2000 and 2015, and RLIF Coach of the Year twice in 2005 and 2010.
Rugby League Immortal Andrew Johns has recently revealed a story about Bennett from when the 71-year-old coached him for Australia back in 1998 via his column for the Sydney Morning Herald.
“I’ll never forget the first time Wayne Bennett coached me in the late 1990s when he became Australian coach,” said Johns
“The team was staying in Bondi and on the first day of the camp he called me into this room.
“Mate, I hear you like a beer,” Bennett said. “Yes, that’s correct,” I replied.
“As long as you turn up and train, and train well, and you don’t take the young blokes with you, you can have a beer. But, if it affects your performance, I’ll stop it.”
ANDREW JOHNS' IMMORTAL KOMBAT: The Souths coach is the master manipulator: not just of other coaches but all different sorts of players. https://t.co/1PWjwTQrgs
— SMH Sport (@SMHsport) September 15, 2021
“I cartwheeled out of his room all the way down the road to the Bondi Hotel.
“Then I thought about it. How many coaches would say something like that to a player? How many restrictions would they put on you? How many would be fine with you going to the pub?
“I didn’t take it for granted. I appreciated that he treated me like a man, just as he has with every player he’s coached in 45 years.
“Bennett’s different to other coaches. He knows how to manage all the different personalities that make up a football team. He’s a genius, as we were reminded once again with his side’s shock win over Penrith in the first week of the finals.”
Johns and the Australian national team would go on to win their two games under Bennett in 1998, defeating New Zealand on both occasions, with the Allora native going on to coach Australia again in 2004 and 2005.
This is a great example of Bennett’s brilliance and ability to know when it’s appropriate to stop being a coach and act as more of a friend or ally towards his players.