I can picture Wayne Bennett sitting on his veranda, rocking back and forth in a chair, yelling at the street kids to get off his lawn and then yelling at their parents for raising such brats. He doesn’t care who likes him or who he offends.
He never shies away from an argument and has no problem telling you what he’s thinking.
Throughout his illustrious career the supercoach has made his fair share of waves. He ruffled feathers when he sacked Wally Lewis as captain, caused a stir when he labelled Ricky Stuart a “drama queen” and angered many Blues fans when he bought Allan Langer back to the 2001 Queensland Origin team. He stirred the pot by joining the coaching ranks of both New Zealand and England and has annoyed many over the years with what has seemed absolute bias for his ‘son’ Darius Boyd.
It’s Wayne’s world, we all just live in it.
His recent battle with Ivan Cleary made for sensational viewing. Seeing Cleary get out-Wayned by Wayne was just glorious. Many are hoping that it ends up being a Bunnies vs Panthers grand final just so we can see these two at each other again.
But that war of words wasn’t his first rodeo. Never one to back down from a fight, Bennett has had many public spats over the years.
A long-time feud has grown between Bennett and Tallis. It’s believed to have started the week of what ended up being Tallis’s last ever game.
In 2004 Tallis was captain of the Broncos and had announced he would retire after that season due to an ongoing neck injury.
They were due to meet the North Queensland Cowboys in a semi-final in Tallis’s hometown of Townsville. With his career drawing to a close, a must-win match on the line and lots of family and friends coming to watch him play, Tallis was gearing up for a huge game, ready to lead from the front. Unfortunately for Tallis, Bennett had other plans and started him from the bench.
The Broncos lost the game and bowed out of the finals, and Tallis retired with a bitter taste in his mouth. The two never saw eye to eye again.
Bellamy was once the Robin to Bennett’s Batman when he was the assistant coach at the Broncos. When Bellamy left the nest to coach the Storm, a grand rivalry was forged. Both coaches have had huge successes, and there is always excitement when these two go head to head. But it became a private battle when Bennett found out he was on the outer with the Broncos and they had secretly offered Bellamy his job.
Add on top of that the fact Bennett went to the NRL a couple of years ago to put forward a case to have ‘wrestling’ banned from the game – a trait used quite famously by the Storm – and the once close friends are now far from it.
The Newcastle Knights and Nathan Brown
I think if Bennett ever had to drive from Sydney to Brisbane, he would go via Broken Hill to bypass Newcastle. When he left the Newcastle Knights in 2014 to go back to the Broncos, he left the club in a bad state. There are not many Knights fans who have forgiven Bennett for what he did to their beloved team. Nathan Brown was then hired to try and clean up the mess.
In 2018 Bennett was asked how well he thought Brown had rebuilt the Knights after he had left.
“Well, he unbuilt it, so I suppose if you unbuild it, the next thing you’ve got to do is rebuild it,” he said. “That’s what he’s done. They’ve lost a lot of players in the last two years, three years, however long Nathan has been there.”
Bennett’s 42-year marriage broke down during his time at the Knights, and during his stint there he also met his current partner, Dale Cage, who was a receptionist to the club doctor. So when Brown heard what Bennett had said about his coaching, it got very personal very quickly.
“The reality is, when Wayne came to town, if he thought with his big head rather than his little head, I wouldn’t have had to rebuild the joint.”
After Brown had finished his time at the Knights, he took another swipe at Bennett. “There’s always going to be new jobs for people like me because there’s plenty of selfish coaches that make short-term decisions and ruin footy clubs.”
The Brisbane Broncos
This is Bennett’s biggest and most bitter feud of all. Named as Brisbane’s first coach when they entered the competition in 1988, Bennett led the club to six premierships over ten years. After shocking the rugby league world by leaving the club to join the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2008, the world felt normal again when he returned home in 2015. Many, including Bennett, thought he would see out his coaching days at the helm of the Broncos, but the board had other ideas.
As previously mentioned, the club tried to replace him with Bellamy while he still had time on his contract. After Bellamy turned them down, Bennett was hopeful he would be able to stay on, but this was not the case. Determined that the 2019 season would be Bennett’s last at Brisbane, the club then went after Anthony Seibold, who was coaching Souths at the time.
In the end, the Bunnies announced they had signed Bennett. A coaching ‘swap’ had occurred between Bennett and Seibold – and we all know how those two appointments progressed.
Wayne Bennett has accomplished more than most in rugby league. But you don’t become as great or as successful as Bennett without making enemies along the way.
While he doesn’t seem too bothered by the lack of Christmas cards he needs to send each year, you wonder if deep down he wishes a few of his relationships could have been better or wonders whether he could have handled certain things a different way.
There is no doubt, though, that the thought of a grand final win with Souths next Sunday in possibly his last time as coach would help with any sadness he may feel about his feuds.
The fact that the game will be played in Brisbane – that’s just icing on the cake.