From his first season as a head coach Wayne Bennett’s name has gone hand in hand with success. The great man deals in premierships and September football. He thrives on it.
His ability to find the best in players when it matters most is legendary.
At 71, the master coach has seen it all.
Few will ever reach the lofty heights Bennett has. History tells us this. But is it modern or ancient?
Is it still the same Wayne Bennett or now more of a brand name you buy on its prestige?
After all, Bennett is currently in the longest premiership drought of his illustrious career – 11 years and counting. Yes, it has been that long since the lanky, awkward figure of Bennett weaved his way through the adoring St George Illawarra fans at a drenched Stadium Australia as the seconds ticked away on grand final day 2010.
“This premiership is really about the true believers,” Bennett said after the 32-8 win over the Sydney Roosters. “They believed this year. They weren’t sure last year, but they believed this year and that’s the difference.
“They believed they could win and they believed they could beat anybody they played. Being down at halftime wasn’t an issue. Last year it was. We (coaching staff) got it right off the field and they got it right on the field.”
Eleven long winters.
People couldn’t believe it took six years between titles at the Brisbane Broncos in the early 2000s.
His South Sydney Rabbitohs are on the cusp of the grand final in 2021. That same type of belief is in this Rabbitohs squad – especially so after the way they went up a notch when they lost Latrell Mitchell for the season.
But the knife edge is unforgiving.
A bad night against Manly or a good one for Tom Trbojevic and Bennett is done at Redfern.
Incredibly, it would be the fourth consecutive season Souths have been bundled out at the preliminary final stage. It would also mean Bennett’s third straight too. For the club, it would be heartbreak.
This is the South Sydney Rabbitohs. The club with the Hollywood owner, a star roster, 21 premierships and one of the greatest coaches the game has ever produced. Another failure and it’s five preliminary final losses since 2012.
Of course there was that unforgettable night under Michael Maguire in 2014 where they crushed a 43-year hoodoo. Sam Burgess, Greg Inglis and a little local junior at halfback in Adam Reynolds.
If the Sea Eagles eliminate the Rabbitohs, the next time we see Reynolds in the NRL will be in a Broncos jersey.
Talk about pressure.
While other clubs would kill just to smell the fumes of the third week of the finals, the expectation on this great organisation is that close enough isn’t good enough.
In South Sydney’s favour is Bennett’s finals record against Manly coach Des Hasler, with Bennett holding a 3-0 lead at an aggregate of 84-32.
These coaches have been here before. They have a chance to go through to the final game of the year. But you sense the Rabbitohs have just a little more to lose at Suncorp Stadium against the Sea Eagles.
Whether that works in their favour or not is anyone’s guess.