This Thursday night, Wayne Bennett will grace Suncorp Stadium for possibly the last time when the South Sydney Rabbitohs travel north to face the Brisbane Broncos to kick off Round 15 of the NRL.
It was in Brisbane where Bennett achieved a lot as a coach, leading the Broncos to all six of their premiership titles, and unearthing superstars such as Darren Lockyer, Kevin Walters, Shane Webcke, Justin Hodges, Karmichael Hunt and Darius Boyd, among many others.
Since his first tenure at Red Hill ended, he led the Dragons to a premiership in 2010 and also coached the Newcastle Knights before returning to the Broncos ahead of the 2015 season, where they reached a grand final only to fall short against the Cowboys in extra time.
The super-coach then moved to coaching the Rabbitohs in 2019, and is in the final season of the three-year deal he signed with the Pride of the League, after which he will hand the reins to his right-hand man, Jason Demetriou.
And despite some recent hiccups including humiliating defeats to the Storm and Panthers, the 71-year-old has again led the Bunnies to the upper echelon of the ladder, as they attempt to send the super coach out a winner with a premiership on the first Sunday of October.
However, the Rabbitohs will have to buck a long trend if they are to win their 22nd premiership, as in over a hundred years of rugby league history in Australia, no team has ever won the title after conceding more than 50 points in a regular season match.
Wayne Bennett will face his old side as Souths coach – who wins? (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
There is also another incentive for Souths to salute this year, with this being Adam Reynolds’ final season at Redfern before he makes the high-profile move to Red Hill at the end of the season.
Reynolds’ impending move north, as well as the fact Wayne Bennett will be coaching at Suncorp Stadium for the final time, will be the two major subplots to this Thursday night’s clash between the two teams who have developed a fierce rivalry in recent years.
Notable historic matches include, among others: an unlikely 34-all draw late in the 2004 season, the Rabbitohs’ upset win in mid-2006 which broke a 17-year winning hoodoo against the Broncos, a referee being knocked out in 2009, and a wet weather contest in mid-2011.
There was also the blockbuster coach swap between Bennett and Anthony Seibold which took place at the end of the 2018 season, twelve months earlier than planned.
Since then, matches between the Rabbitohs and Broncos have become compulsory viewing on the NRL fixture.
After being sacked by the Broncos at the end of the 2018 season, Bennett had the last laugh as he led the Rabbitohs to a 38-6 win in Round 8, 2019.
The Broncos’ only win since then came in Round 2, 2020, when they won by 22-18 in front of zero fans at Suncorp Stadium; that came just before the NRL suspended its season at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this season, the Rabbitohs won by 35-6 at home in Round 5, with Adam Reynolds kicking the first two-point field goal since the rule was introduced.
Ten weeks on, Wayne Bennett’s side will look to make it a double over the Broncos, who despite winning only three games under new coach Kevin Walters have shown signs of promise this year.
The northerners have beaten the Bulldogs, Titans and Roosters, but have dropped their last two matches, losing to the Dragons and Raiders (who happen to be facing each other in Wollongong this Saturday) to be sitting in equal last-place on the ladder with the Dogs.
Wayne Bennett. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Karmichael Hunt, making his first appearance in maroon and gold since 2009, enjoyed a solid comeback playing in the five-eighth position against the Raiders, and will surely come under consideration for selection against the Rabbitohs on Thursday night.
In between drinks, he played for the Gold Coast Suns in the AFL, notably kicking the match-winning goal against Richmond in 2012, as well as for the Queensland Reds and NSW Waratahs in the Super Rugby competition.
Kobe Hetherington, who was controversially sent off following an unavoidable high shot on Corey Harawira-Naerea, escaped with a fine and so will be free to play; he was the first Bronco to be red carded since 1999.
Despite the Broncos having the home ground advantage, the Rabbitohs will start favourites as they continue to demonstrate their premiership credentials, which as mentioned above took a hit with heavy losses to the Storm and Panthers in recent weeks.
After enjoying a bye in Round 13, the Bunnies scored a 24-10 win over the Knights at Stadium Australia last Saturday night, with Alex Johnston scoring a hat-trick of tries and earning the praise of Wayne Bennett for his performance.
Currently in fourth place on the ladder, due to an inferior for-and-against they will remain where they are if they win, otherwise a loss could see them overtaken by the fifth-placed Sydney Roosters, who play the Penrith Panthers on Friday night.
Regardless, expect the Rabbitohs to flex their premiership muscles against the Broncos as they look to make super coach Bennett’s final season at Redfern one to remember.
And with the Broncos all but certain to sit September out for the second straight year, it will be the final time the 71-year-old graces Suncorp Stadium and he would love nothing more than to mark his final game in the sunshine capital with a victory.
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