Amongst the assaults, scandals and big name player exchanges, the 2018-19 NRL pre-season will be remembered by the dramatic and long-winded coaching swap between South Sydney and Brisbane, which saw Anthony Siebold head to Suncorp and Wayne Bennett return to Sydney.
Two coaches in different stages of their career, and two of the most iconic brands in Australian sport. Undoubtedly fans from both clubs will be left rather satisfied that the swap occurred, as opposed to be left hung out to dry by a sudden coaching departure.
But after the dust has settled, the question remains: which club got the better deal?
The Broncos – Anthony Seibold
In Anthony Siebold, the Brisbane Broncos have acquired an astute man-manager and rugby league tactician with a long career ahead of him.
There was a notable slickness to South Sydney’s attack last season, and when his side settled into the flow with the ball in hand, there was no defence that could stop them.
This is where the Broncos will certainly benefit most, particularly their halves pairing of Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima, who were horribly inconsistent last season.
In the forwards, the Broncos have some exceptional young talent, many of whom were given opportunities through 2018 by Bennett.
However, the loss of Origin star Josh McGuire and the retirement of Sam Thaiday in the off-season does leave Brisbane a little drier in terms of experience, which is something Seibold relied on heavily throughout his opening stint with South Sydney last year.
It will be interesting to see how the side handles the middle period of the season, during which the club is often tested through it’s typically strong Origin representation.
The coaching exchange certainly adds spice to what is already a huge matchup on the regular season calendar. Especially now following the fiery comments made by Seibold in regards to Bennett’s conduct during the swap, in which he reportedly called the Supercoach out for contacting Souths players before the swap had officially been signed off.
Rabbitohs – Wayne Bennett
Like Seibold, Wayne Bennett knows how to get the most out of his players mentally, and his ‘Supercoach’ status says everything about his tactical ability.
Bennett’s signing by the Rabbitohs signifies that the club knows they are in a premiership window, and that they have an opportunity to do something special this year.
There’s no coach that can turn a top four finish into a premiership like Wayne Bennett, with his tenure at St. George Illawarra providing the perfect example.
The Dragons at the time had a top roster, and perfect balance between their forwards and backs, but were just missing that know-how in the coaches box. Along came Bennett and the Red V had a minor premiership in his first year, and a premiership the year following.
You can almost envisage the same thing happening this year with South Sydney.
On top of this, is the relationship Bennett has with the all-important Burgess brothers through their time with England. 2018 showed how important Tom, George and Sam were to South’s fortunes, and Bennett knows how to get them moving.
Whilst there are still some question marks surrounding how Souths will lineup in round one, simply having Wayne Bennett there will transform the way the club operates.
Whilst Wayne Bennett’s coaching record speaks for itself, he isn’t bulletproof, particularly when referring to his time at other clubs.
Yes, he won a premiership with the Dragons in 2010, and nearly guided Newcastle to a grand final in 2013, but beyond that he’s also had his struggles.
Given his age, Wayne Bennett’s time at the Rabbitohs is a short-term experiment. You can’t picture the supercoach still in red and green in five years time. Therefore, instant impact will be crucial.
Seibold on the other hand, is only in his second year as a head coach, and is therefore a longer-term investment from the Broncos. The club’s administration will give him time to adopt his own systems and roster.
And going off his instant impact with the Rabbitohs in 2018, Seibold can coach.
The question then is, if the Rabbitohs could choose between Anthony Seibold and Wayne Bennett, who would they pick?
I have no doubt they’d be picking Seibold.