Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Wayne (Bennett) Enterprises

Is Wayne trying to save the world? His loyalty is holding him back
According to reports, Wayne Bennett’s decision to leave the Newcastle Knights at the end of this season came as a surprise to his players. Whilst they may shocked, much like myself, many fans of Rugby League wouldn’t be. To his credit, he came to the conclusion that his ‘results’ were not up to par, and if he was a coach at any other club he would most likely have been sacked by now. The disappointing thing about this notion is that Wayne leaves Newcastle high and dry, now stuck with the roster he brought in and little or no success from the Tinkler-funded Bennett era.

When he road into town, Bennett was the most prolific coach in the game and had achieved a dominate, and successful period holding the reins at St. George Illawarra. Tinkler wanted nothing but the best, and in reality, he got it. Many talked up the Knights' chances to win multiple premierships; success, it seemed, was on the doorstep. Wayne made some key signings in bringing Darius Boyd, Jeremy Smith and Beau Scott with him from the Dragons. Combined with the sound and solid performers already at the Knights of Mullen, Gidley & Uate, things were looking pretty. Eventually Dane Gagai, Willie Mason and Danny Buderus would join the fold. These, all major, and worthwhile signings.

But something went wrong along the lines with Wayne’s plans and ambitions for the team. Was it the overarching influence of Tinkler’s craved success? Or Wayne’s willingness to give players a second chance? Tinkler had shown he wouldn’t put up with mediocrity in his thoroughbred pursuits, and although Wayne would never reveal if the pressure was there, surely this impacted some of his decisions on team signings. Craig Gower, Michael Dobson, Travis Waddell and Joseph Leilua were all given opportunities at the Knights. Was this to have depth in the squad? We all know what happened with Russell Packer. He was a renowned bad boy and Wayne signed him with the idea of turning him around. Sometimes you can't help and save them all.

It appears from the outside looking in, Wayne tried to ‘buy’ his way to a premiership, rather than dig in and develop the squad from within. He took a short cut, whether subconsciously forced by the need for success, or it was his genuine mistake. In his first year, he rid the club of 15 players, but brought home Timana Tahu and Kade Snowden, along with many others. The club was cruelled by a Kurt Gidley shoulder injury and eventually ran 12th with 10 wins from 24 starts. In 2013 the team began to reveal itself with some impressive displays throughout the season, but they flirted with those watching if they could become serious contenders. They had a mixed run into the finals and with wins over the Bulldogs in week one, and the Storm in Melbourne the week after, many started to wonder if Bennet had finally put it together. But the game in Melbourne was their grand final, it was a great achievement but they were never going to beat the Roosters, even if Buderus hadn’t gone done. Finishing in the final 4 almost felt like and overachievement, and hid the cracks in the squad and plan. Experienced heads can get you so far, but it’s raw, long developed and often youthful talents that will win you a premiership.

With much optimism after the high finish in 2013, the Knights turned up at the Auckland nines, with a fresh energy but were once again dealt a bad hand when Jarrod Mullen walked off with a hamstring injury. You can look at this as the first part of the Knight’s 2014 season derailing. The loss of Danny Buderus left a huge hole, both positional and in guiding the team. Further injuries to Gidley, the Alex McKinnon situation and the Tinkler demise would all prevent the team from starting any season momentum.

Whilst I believe Wayne’s time at St. George Illawarra was different, he still stuck to a plan of developing many players the club already had on board. He knew it was 2-3 year plan to achieve a premiership, and built towards that. He made players big names, rather than bringing in a list of stars. His time at the Knights has shown he was in a hurry to achieve success, and as this year has proven, things just didn’t fall into place. In many ways it’s easy to look at Wayne’s decision to leave the club as a ‘walk out’, but in retrospect, it’s probably the best thing for the club. After a tumultuous year, it’s time for the Knights to return to their former coach of Rick Stone, and build a team based on the club’s roots, being working class underdogs. Darius should be bought the first bus ticket out of town, and some players put on notice. One positive is the significant investment the Tinkler regime made in junior development, with both Johns’ brothers citing the talent that will eventually trickle into to first grade. Maybe Wayne knew this talent was coming, but wouldn’t be ready for a few years which led to the route of trying to buy success.

Wherever he goes next should be aware of his allegiance to Darius Boyd and giving players another crack, because it’s hindering him as a coach. He may be a father figure for Darius but everyone has to grow, and neither will do that if they don’t experience something different. There are now a number of coaches in the NRL who have worked hard, searching far and wide on their coaching journey to become more knowledge and better than those before them. Maybe Hasler, Robinson and Maguire have the new tricks that Bennet is now missing.

Have the rest really caught up to the supercoach? Where would South Sydney be if Bennett had accepted Rusty’s offer instead of Tinkler’s? Will Wayne head home to the Broncos or will the smoky of the Gold Coast Titans snare his services? Does Karmichael Hunt fit into the decision somehow?

God love Rugby League.