‘Newy’ Success The Final Frontier For Bennett
It is easy to assume Wayne James Bennett was coaxed to Newcastle by Tinkler’s millions, with China’s thirst for black energy ultimately funding one of the most exceptional coach poaching operations in rugby league’s history. After all, the decorated trainer is only human and money speaks a language in which even the most moral of men appear to be fluent.
There is also the possibility that the allure of living in a place that features on Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities list was a major factor in Bennett’s decision to defect to the steel city, as the likes of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane are yet to feature on that list.
But above all else, one would hope that the strongest magnet that attracted Rugby League’s biggest fish to the slightly polluted pond of ‘Newie’ was the challenge of bringing league glory to a city that expects no less.
Much like his tenure at the Broncos, Bennett is back in charge in a one team town that are essentially the heart and soul of the area’s sporting culture. Falcons, Breakers, Pirates, Jaegars & Jets have all played second fiddle to the men in shiny armor over the years, but this top dog status brings with it a huge amount of expectation from footy fans across the Hunter region.
Bennett generally sets a relatively austere tone with his teams and his father figure approach could be just the tonic the knights need after the recent seasons dealing with drug allegations and a the reputation of a party culture at the club.
But despite coaching credentials featuring an unmatched 7 grand final victories with 2 different clubs, multiple world club championships and an impressive representative record, there are still those that suggest Bennett’s success has been largely due to the fact he has coached some exceptional players and talented teams.
A skilled drovesman no doubt, but one who has definitely had the cattle.
For the non-believers that have failed to convert to the Church of Bennett, it appears that there is some fodder that exists that can be used to dispute Bennett’s existence as a true to life coaching Messiah.
The trend continued at St George where he inherited a strong team which was vastly improved by the influx of players who arrived due to his reputation as a coach. Many of these players and coaches were obtained due to the formidable bonds Bennett had had forged with them previously and there was a prominent southern migration that was enough to send tingles down David Attenborough’s spine.
Dragons fans will be eternally grateful that Bennett ultimately helped them shake the tag of underachieving ‘chokers’. But as one of the real standout teams in the competition over the past 3 seasons, it could be argued that a return of only one premiership was, much like Wayne, a little on the slim side.
Another member of the worldwide coaching fraternity who has achieved prolonged success with multiple teams, but who has also done it with the help of some of his sports best ever players, is former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach, Phil Jackson.
The similarities between the two coaches extend further as much like Bennett, Jackson is a noted man manager as opposed to supreme tactician, both men’s coaching philosophies extend far beyond the playing arena and training ground, during their playing days they were both handy, yet by no means stars of their respective sports and they both stand alone at the top of the coaching pile in regard to championships (or premierships) won as a coach.
Like Bennett’s doubters who suggest that his success has largely been a function of the talented teams he has coached, Phil Jackson’s 11 championships will always be coupled with an asterix noting that either Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant were involved in winning every single one of them.
There are strong murmurs within basketball circles that Jackson will take the reins at the New York Knicks next season which, in many respects, would mirror Bennett’s move to Newcastle. Jackson won 2 championships in New York as a player (although sat out the 1970 championship season following surgery) which obviously forged a strong connection between himself and the city, but it would be the challenge the Knicks presents that would hold the greatest appeal for the man dubbed the ‘Zen Master’.
In the same vein as the Newcastle Knights, the Knicks have a talented roster that is far too often characterised using terms like ‘potential’ and ‘underachievement’.
If Jackson takes up the post in New York and enjoys some success there, he will not only make Spike Lee ecstatic but will also cement his reputation as the greatest coach in NBA history.
Bennett has already accepted his challenge and it is too early to make the call on whether or not he can reach the pinnacle with the Knights. They have already tasted defeats against two of Bennett’s former employers, the Dragons and the Broncos, and the early running shows them to be a little off the pace.
However they have also showed flashes of brilliance and, at times, a steely resolve which is a common characteristic of sides coached by Bennett. They have recruited well welcoming back a crafty rake in Danny Buderus, the hard running Kade Snowden and Bennett loyalist Darius Boyd. As Bennett himself said despite the weekend’s loss to Melbourne “I’m pretty optimistic about where we can go.”
Given the right time and conditions, coal can be transformed into diamonds and that is exactly what Tinkler had in mind when he recruited Bennett to his rugby league project. If Wayne Bennett can turn a side better known for controversy off the field than performances on it into a premiership winning team, he too will be registered in the sporting almanacs for eternity as the high mark for rugby league coaches.