They are unlikely bedfellows and yet it is a match made in heaven. The anti-charismatic yet highly-theatrical supercoach Wayne Bennett has anointed the Newcastle Knights worthy of his wisdom for the next four years. It will echo far beyond the borders of the Hunter Region to the very edges of the Rugby League empire.
And here’s why: Bennett winning a Premiership with the Knights would be one of the greatest achievements in rugby league history.
The achievement will be Bradman-esque. It will never be repeated.
And it will happen.
For it to happen in a rugby league stronghold in the midst of shaking off its working-class battler image, the Midas touch-mythology and the “Cult of Bennett” will last as long as the game itself.
His place in folklore was sealed long before his sixth Premiership in Brisbane. He had piloted the Broncos from inception to their rightful place as one of the greatest Australian clubs of all-time, any code. And he did it for 21 years in the fishbowl on a huge one-team city.
Even so, questions remained.
“Protected species,” Sydney talkback radio screamed. “Get him down here and it’ll be a different story.”
Perennial underperformers St George-Illawarra were burdened both by one-team-one-town pressures and the weight of a history that included an unprecedented premiership reign. More Saints than Dragons, they were at best rudderless, at worst, ready to implode, and unquestionably fragile.
Cue Bennett. Cue Premiership. Call 1800-HUMBLEPIE.
So that’s that then. Seriously, dude, go and hang out at the farm. You’ve done enough.
But that wouldn’t be Wayne’s World now, would it? No, this is how the Bennett rolls.
He quits St George, refuses to retire, saying coaching is all he knows, and the media then dutifully does the rest.
They narrow the possibilities to two.
Who would the great man deem worthy of his wisdom?
Would it be South Sydney? A club so steeped in history, its very name “The Rabbitohs” comes from a profession that has been dead for 50 years.
Would it be this club now part-owned by one of the world’s most famous Australians, an Academy-Award winning actor, this club that disappeared before its spectacular revival, this club that personifies one-time greatness re-invented for the new millennium.
Taking the Bunnies to the title would be quite a story. A story more than worthy of the Bennett legend.
Or would he choose the Newcastle Knights?
This team that defines a region, a region that is the embodiment of rugby league , with its working class roots and new big-business bent.
This team that has just been plucked from oblivion by a local front rower who became a sparky who became a billionaire.
And that billion dollars was carved out of the Hunter Valley countryside, by the blokes Nathan Tinkler once worked alongside, and now sits alongside at the footy club he owns, and they support.
Before Tinkler, the Knights, like the region they represent, weren’t used to nice things. If they wanted the best, they had to breed it, because they bloody sure couldn’t buy it.
They kept Joey and Chief, but they lost Burt and Snowden and Idris and Mason and a hundred others.
Tinkler won’t let that happen anymore. And there’ll be plenty of out-of-towners happy to don the red and blue just for the chance to bow down at Bennett’s altar.
You should know, Hunter folk don’t welcome just anyone. Ask Brian Smith. But once they embrace you, you are family. Ask Michael Hagan.
Wayne Bennett though, he’s a Newy kind of guy. Short on bullshit, he underpromises and overdelivers. And so it shall be.
Benny and the Billionaire combine to take the broken club to an NRL powerhouse.
Consider this; some sporting moments that live forever are a shock. Think Cantona’s kick or Bradman’s last-up duck.
Others have a sense of inevitability. You can almost see the planets aligning. Think Cathy Freeman’s win at the Sydney Olympics or England being the victim of something so absurd as the “Hand of God”.
Bennett and Tinkler coming together at the Knights is an unprecedented planetary ballet.
A new chapter in the book of Rugby League is about to be written.
The moment Wayne Bennett was scrawled on that contract, complete with free use of the Tinkler aerodrome, the wheels of history were set in motion.
The bandwagon is rolling, jump on while you can still catch it, or your grandkids will ask why you didn’t.