Townsville Bulletin

What now for Wayne as the master coach Sees his fairytale ending at Souths ruined by the mountain men


WAYNE Bennett will enter the coaching abyss in search of an eighth premiershi­p after his dreams of a fairytale farewell from South Sydney was dashed by Ivan Cleary’s Panthers on Sunday night.

Bennett’s hopes of snapping an 11-year NRL title drought on home soil at Suncorp Stadium were spoiled by Penrith as the Panthers avenged last year’s grand final loss to Melbourne. The historic first Queensland grand final was one for the ages as Penrith secured a 14–12 win to claim the club’s third title and first since 2003.

The Panthers were deserved premiers after dominating Souths for most of the game and if not for the Rabbitohs’ courage the result could have been much starker.

But that won’t ease the pain for Bennett and his Bunnies.

Bennett, 71, has now lost his past two grand finals in the most heartbreak­ing of circumstan­ces, with his seventh and last premiershi­p coming with the Dragons in 2010.

It has been 4018 days since he last coached a team to premiershi­p glory. After being unceremoni­ously sacked by the Broncos in 2018, Bennett went to Redfern on a threeyear mission to deliver Souths its first title since 2014.

While the Rabbitohs have made the final four in all three seasons, a premiershi­p would have been the ultimate vindicatio­n for Bennett after the Broncos attempted to push him into an early retirement from head coaching.

But the master mentor fell agonisingl­y short in a game that had it all.

If Cody Walker’s pass wasn’t intercepte­d by Stephen Crichton and Adam Reynolds’

conversion attempt late in the game had not missed by a whisker it may have been a different result. Bennett will now embark on a coaching hiatus and does not know what or where his next job will be.

He is expected to be appointed head coach of Queensland’s expansion franchise in Brisbane, but the 17th NRL team is not due to launch until 2023.

That will mean Bennett has to wait 18 months before coaching his next game in the NRL. That’s a long time to stew on the anguish of 2021.

After delivering Brisbane’s six titles in his first stint at Red Hill, Bennett was at the helm when the Broncos fell to North Queensland in the epic 2015 extra-time thriller.

This time, it was the Panthers that delivered the dagger to Bennett in his record 10th grand final appearance.

The Rabbitohs went into the game as outsiders.

It had been that way all year for the Bunnies as Melbourne and Penrith fought it out at the top and that was exactly the way Bennett had wanted it. They flew under the radar until week one of the finals when Bennett produced a coaching masterstro­ke to beat Penrith and set up a saloon passage to the grand final. But they couldn’t get it done on the night.

The Rabbitohs had just 42 per cent of possession in the first half but only trailed 8-6.

The Panthers edged ahead through Crichton’s intercept try in the 67th minute but the Rabbitohs refused to go away, with Alex Johnston crossing late to set up a grandstand finish.

But it wasn’t to be.

Bennett’s search will go on and just what his next move is remains to be seen.

 ?? ?? Wayne Bennett watches the grand final from the coaches’ box at Suncorp Stadium. Picture: Josh Woning
Wayne Bennett watches the grand final from the coaches’ box at Suncorp Stadium. Picture: Josh Woning
 ?? ?? Souths’ Dane Gagai and Alex Johnston. Picture: Adam Head
Souths’ Dane Gagai and Alex Johnston. Picture: Adam Head

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