The year is 1987; Cliffy Lyons guides Manly to the Winfield Cup.
His performance enhancing substance of choice a few puffs of a durrie. The Sea Eagles downed the Canberra Raiders in convincing fashion, but the Raiders are the first team from outside of Sydney to make it to the big dance. Raiders co-coaches Don Furner and Wayne Bennett are held in high regard.
Bennett was of particular interest to club bosses thanks to his strong links to a plethora of Brisbane based playing talent.
Bennett’s Raiders contract at the time was little more than a piece of paper with a few bullet-points.
While it did bear Wayne’s signature, there was no counter-sign from any Canberra official at all.
This hand written note was essentially meaningless, with the Raiders more than happy to rest on a hand-shake agreement.
The late great Peter Jackson, was unlikely inspiration as Bennett’s contract negotiations to stay at Canberra ramped up.
“I said ‘Pete, what are you going to do today? What are you going to ask for?’
‘Seventy thousand dollars, Wayne.’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Bloody oath I am.’
He said ‘I know I can get that. What are you going to ask for?’
I said ‘I don’t know, I was going to ask for about $40,000.’
He said ‘You’re kidding me. You get in there. You’re worth as much as I’m worth.’
So he talked me up, started pumping me up. I went in there and asked for $65,000 and they said ‘That’s fine mate.'”
The master coach glosses over much of his time at Canberra in his 2009 memoir Wayne Bennett, the Man in the Mirror, but alludes to the primitive nature of rugby league in the late 80’s
and the infamous coaching raid by the fresh Broncos franchise lead by Paul ‘Porky’ Morgan.
“I get in the car and in we go. Les (Raiders CEO) is in his office. It was about lunchtime. Les McIntyre is one of the finest men I’ve met, a very passionate guy.
He loves his Raiders and he was wonderful to me during my time at the club.”
“Porky introduces himself and just says to Les, quite openly and bluntly
‘I’m taking your coach off you. He said ‘he’s going to come back to Brisbane.'”
Legend has it Broncos administrator Porky Morgan had arrived in Canberra and knocked on Bennett’s door with a suitcase demanding Bennett return with him to Brisbane.
Wayne responded by going for a run, finally agreeing to Porky Morgan’s audacious manoeuvre on his return.
The situation quickly soured and, with Canberra ropable, the NSWRL would have to step in to mediate. Eventually the Broncos were forced to stump up $100,000 in compensation.
It’s the single largest transfer fee in Brisbane’s 1988 recruitment drive and the beginning of a legendary coaching reign that would last 21 years and yield six premierships.
Some 21 years later, Wayne would acknowledge in his memoir that he breached the contract by going back on his word, something he seems at pains to reverse in the current Broncos-Rabbitohs debacle.
If there is one thing we can learn, Wayne’s word truly resides in Wayne’s world.