13 April 2011
He's become the Clint Eastwood of rugby league – gruff, grizzled and calculating. The ultimate statesman, fixer and sharp-shooter whose success has been born on the shoulders of the foot-soldiers he inspires. The rough ruby in a sport of stallions. A man who's mind seems to whirl faster than yours – and no, it's not the Stig.
He is Wayne Bennett, and if you are a Novocastrian, you are about to see a lot more of him. And, in all likelihood, a lot closer look at the Premiership Trophy.
With the news that Bennett has signed a four-year-deal with the Knights, all of a sudden things are looking a whole lot brighter in Newcastle. Bennett will potentially sweep into the port-side city on the wave of more premiership success this season with the Dragons, and as an added bonus, have star fullback Darius Boyd under his wing.
There is a sense that the club will instantly be buoyed by the news – more importantly for the club's weary fans, there is instant gratification from the decision to accept tycoon Nathan Tinkler's takeover. With immeasurable influence, passion and coin, Tinkler has already delivered.
As one Knights fan told me, ‘we're one big name away from a 2012 premiership,' and although he declares an imminent premiership every year, he's probably right. With a groundswell of rejuvenated support and a solid grassroots player system that will continue to breed NRL athletes over the next four seasons, there is reason for optimism. People truly believe that Bennett will bring with him a culture of success – that feeling, in itself, is invaluable.
Without being one of the players being coached by Bennett, it's hard to know exactly what it is that motivates those around him. Regardless of technique however, he has an innate ability to inspire.
Bennett says one of the reasons he went to Newcastle was for the challenge, yet they are far from the worst side in the competition and he will know a little tweaking and an injection of confidence can transform the Knights from a medieval myth to a modern-day slaying machine. They have a good leader in Kurt Gidley, a talented but inconsistent halves set-up and capable forwards. Results this year already are indicative of a team with potential unable to break through.
Like the Dragons a few years back, Newcastle is missing something. Correction, was.
Bennett has made the unusual move of announcing his coaching future in the opening stanza of his current campaign with the reigning premiers. One can understand his decision, the levels of speculation around the move had hit fever pitch. But, it is also a very pro-active move.
While he is clearly a consummate professional focused on success for St George-Illawarra this season, in his peripherals must be what type of club he walks into come Christmas. Now, the players, administration and Rick Stone have time to prepare for change. In addition, the Dragons players aren't dragged through a media quagmire as the guessing games continue.
Presumably to Bennett's glee, the whole charade seemed oh so orchestrated. He loves to construct these cat and mouse games with the media, driven by his dryness and supposed indifference to the tabloids. Once again he has played everyone, but those who immediately matter, for a fool.
South Sydney and Brisbane (among others) would have dearly savoured having the supercoach on roster – unfortunately after playing their hands and being trumped by Tinkler and co, morale will have taken a dive at those clubs. John Lang and Anthony Griffin will have to concede that if the stars had aligned differently they would have been out of a job within months.
Hardly comforting five rounds in to the new year.
For the Dragons now it is a matter of getting on with the season. The so-called ‘premiership window' is very much open still. Frankly, the Dragons have knocked out the windowsill and are standing in the fresh air. With the shadow of the coach's future out of play now, there should be no excuses for another serious tilt at the title in 2011.
The Knights probably aren't contenders right now, though they will be boosted by changes at New Lambton. Competition will be rife to cement positions now before an inevitable sweep upon Bennett's arrival.
There should be a genuine hunger now in Newy– an NRL Premiership Trophy is on the menu.
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