Bennett and Kearney: a tale of two coaches
The once mighty Parramatta Eels have fallen. So far, in fact, that it has only taken four weeks for the first crisis meeting of the season between embattled coach Stephen Kearney and the Eels board.
You can’t help but feel sorry for Kearney after his teams dramatically poor start to the year.
There is no tougher job in the National Rugby League. A first grade coach is judged purely on results alone. The players, and usually the board, escape punishment for poor form. It is the coach who falls on his sword. Time after time we have seen it.
Being a coach is a cannibalistic art form that few of us can fathom. The difference between making a career out of it and just being another name in the distant memory is the finest of lines.
One bad career move and you’re on the scrapheap. Kearney has rolled the dice on the move to Parramatta and is paying for it. Paying for a lack of talent and heart from a listless squad.
While Kearney sits in the quicksand at Parramatta, a legend sits comfortably on his throne in Newcastle. The genius that is Wayne Bennett.
The veteran coach has turned himself into a nomadic Caesar. Picking and choosing where he takes his empire and promising success to the thousands. He promises success with his name alone.
Sure he had one of the most dominant squads throughout the 1990s at the Brisbane Broncos. It was almost a fait accompli that his Broncos would make the playoffs each and every year. But if Bennett didn’t take the position in 1987 and move his family back to Brisbane from Canberra, he wouldn’t have enjoyed the perks.
For over two decades he and his players tasted sweet success. Nobody ever thought the legendary coach would leave. He was as much a part of the city as the Brisbane River.
But the salary cap was now a real problem for the Broncos. It had finally caught up with them like it had with the rest of the competition. No longer could they afford to keep all their home grown talent. They had come back to the pack.
The writing was on the wall, with a big red V signed underneath it.
The time was right and Bennett could see the possibilities at the St George Illawarra Dragons. A team full of superstars and depth. They were ready to win a premiership and Bennett knew he could take them there.
Fast forward three years and Bennett was out the backdoor straight up the F3 motorway with another premiership ring.
The loss of Jeremy Smith and Neville Costigan was enough to force Bennett’s hand. The Dragons weren’t on the decline, but the signs may have been there.
The offer from Nathan Tinkler and the Newcastle Knights was too good to refuse. Too good to be true. Nobody in their right mind would have turned down the chance to coach the Knights over the next four years.
Bennett has transformed himself. He is forever evolving and making the right call on his future. Kill or be killed.
All the while, Kearney sits without answers. Looking at a team with no fight.
Coaches are creatures of timing. Hindsight is now telling Kearney that he probably should have stayed under Craig Bellamy in Melbourne for a few more years. Perhaps he could have gone to the English Super League and bided his time a little longer.
There is no doubt Kearney is still one of the best young coaches in the NRL. But now he is just another victim of timing. Bad timing.