Sunday Territorian

Survivor who knows when to be ruthless


WAYNE Bennett is one of the most polarising characters in rugby league history.

People love him or loathe him. Not too many sit on the fence when it comes to Wayne.

What can’t be disputed is the success Wayne has had as a coach. Tonight at Suncorp Stadium, he will lead the

South Sydney Rabbitohs into his 10th grand final as a first grade coach.

He has won seven of his nine grand finals, including a loss to Manly in 1987 when he was co-coach of Canberra.

It is a great achievemen­t for someone who has spent four decades coaching at the elite level of the game.

But over that time, Wayne has split people across the game for a lot of reasons.

While he may portray an image of someone who doesn’t like the media with his at times gruff press conference­s, in the footy world he is regarded as one of the biggest leaks.

He has written multiple books and knows people like his opinions, so he does a great job of publicisin­g them.

Wayne’s rival coach tonight, Penrith’s Ivan Cleary, found out the hard way a few weeks ago that you don’t mess with Wayne. He has too many friends in the media.

People think I don’t like Wayne, but that is wrong.

I have the utmost respect for Wayne. I will never walk past him when I see him. He was a big part of my life.

If he called me I would take his phone call, there are no issues there.

But we didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything.

Wayne has made a lot of money from rugby league and if I did that I’d respect the game as much as I could and promote it at every opportunit­y I had.

I think at times he hasn’t done that. In Brisbane, he had everyone eating out of the palm of his hand but in Sydney he realised he had to sell himself and the game more.

You have to realise you’re talking to the fans, not the reporters holding microphone­s.

Most people respect Wayne because of what he has achieved in the game.

He has coached multiple generation­s of players who have all changed over the years. He can be really hard on the young kids because he wants to see whether they have it or not.

He likes to build a bond with his players so they want to play for him. When you can do something for him and work really hard, he realises you can be valuable to what the team is trying to achieve.

But the day your impact on the team isn’t as great, he isn’t afraid to make that clear.

Wayne has never had a problem moving on players or telling them when to retire.

This is what’s made him successful but not as well liked by everyone. The people who have played under Wayne will have different opinions.

Some of his ex-players still love him, while others aren’t so close. As ruthless as it is, that’s what makes him successful.

You can’t hold on to someone who is not contributi­ng to the team. Wayne can handle it better than others but he makes the same decisions. He works in one of the toughest industries and has proven to be a survivor. That’s why you respect him.

I am backing Souths and want Wayne to win.

But plenty will be hoping that isn’t the case because of the

way he polarises opinions.

Either way, you can’t argue with what he has achieved.

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