Wayne Bennett was officially farewelled as head coach of Souths at the George Piggins Medal event on Thursday, and now some of the private attacks and spin designed to derail his career can be revealed.
After Souths stormed into the grand final with victory over Manly, Bennett spoke about attempts by some at the Broncos to undermine him, but did not expand on what he was up against. This column has heard a number of stories we are still looking into, including a text message that was accidentally sent to a Souths figure revealing the lies being told about Bennett.
South Sydney chief executive Blake Solly has spoken about the behaviour of some at the Broncos, who were exploiting the situation Bennett was in as he tried to care for his handicapped son, Justin.
“Some of the attacks, particularly before Wayne joined us, were extremely personal and driven, I think, from individuals in the game or at the Broncos at the time to discredit Wayne,” Solly said.
“We never really took much notice of them or believed them. We made our own assessment of Wayne’s character and his values from our discussions with him before he came in, and after he came.”
The Rabbitohs were told that the then 68-year-old Bennett needed to sleep during the day and would require a bed in his office. The truth is, Justin’s medication at the time was not allowing him to sleep at night. Bennett would stay up with Justin during the night and do his best to plough through the days while Justin rested.
There was no fairytale finish but Wayne Bennett left South Sydney with plenty of fond memories.Credit:Getty Images
“One [rumour] in particular around the bed in the office was just not right,” Solly said. “He bought that bed into the office for Justin when he attends training. And for that to be told to us, or told publicly, to discredit Wayne probably reflects more on the people who told us. I think the impression that they were trying to convey was that Wayne’s best years as a coach were behind him and that was the furthest thing from the truth.
“Justin came to watch us train a couple of times while we’re up here [in Queensland to finish the NRL season] and Wayne is extraordinary with him and to have something that was done to make Justin’s life comfortable turned on him was pretty cruel.”
Bennett knew about the campaign and rolled with the punches.
“It says a lot about Wayne’s character that he just saw that as an attempt to discredit him and that he would let his coaching performances and the performance of the team talk for him,” Solly said.
Solly can’t see Bennett hanging up the clipboard any time soon.
“He’s still got energy, he’s still got passion, he’s still extremely sharp, mentally,” Solly said.
“I think Wayne’s words are he’ll stop doing it when he gets used to accepting losing, and he will never do that.”
Why battle for Brisbane is huge test for NRL
The battle to be the second team in Brisbane and for the NRL’s 17th licence is about much more than the three bidders going through a process: it’s an issue that will test the game’s governing body – the ARL Commission.
The problem for the game is the influence that News Corp can have in the process and the lack of transparency around the deal that Foxtel did with the ARLC during the COVID crisis. It’s something people in power in the game are talking about behind closed doors but are afraid to speak about in public.
Not for the first time, the concern is News Corp has too many fingers in the rugby league pie. News Corp owns a 69 per cent stake in the Broncos and would be happy if Redcliffe landed the 17th licence, something the News Corp papers have been happy to push. News Corp, which has a 65 per cent share in Foxtel, is effectively funding the new team. Foxtel and News Corp will benefit if more Broncos games are on Fox Sports or Kayo, because people will have to pay to watch them.
The ARLC went to Foxtel and originally asked for an extra $30 million a year to allow it to bring in a 17th team. The only way the competition can expand is through additional funding and that is most likely to come from broadcast rights. The NRL has ended up with about an additional $100 million for its five-year deal with Foxtel.
Does Foxtel now get a say in the 17th team? Does News Corp get a say? Do News Corp and Foxtel want the same thing?
A second Brisbane team will hurt the News-owned Broncos but will be a boost for Foxtel. A team in Redcliffe is the least threat to the Broncos. However, having a team in Redcliffe is an unusual choice. Those who understand the bids tell me the biggest growth for the NRL would be in Brisbane’s rapidly growing western corridor. The problem for News is that is also where the Broncos see the greatest opportunity for growth. If the Firehawks or Jets, who are based in Brisbane’s west, were awarded the 17th licence, it would have a greater impact on the Broncos.
It is also the area the AFL is targeting. The Brisbane Lions have more than 40,000 members, which far outstrips the Broncos’ 27,463. Work has also begun on a new $70 million facility near Ipswich to be the training and administrative home for the Lions. ARLC chairman Peter V’landys has “absolutely no concern” about conflict of interest.
“Both News and Foxtel are good commercial partners of the game and have approached the initiative in the same way the commission has, which is what is best for the game as a whole. In relation to the successful bidder, that’s a matter for the commission, who will assess the bids against set criteria which the commission developed.”
However, it appears a near certainty that the NRL’s 17th licence will go to Redcliffe and the AFL will get a free-kick out west.
Sons of guns
The Roosters’ Harold Matthews squad for next year has some significant names, none more so than Zac Fittler, the son of NSW coach Brad Fittler.
For those who remember Fittler as a teen, it’s a moment to make us all realise our age. Also in the squad are Jonti Morshead-Feildel, the son of celebrity chef Manu Feildel, and the son of former Wallaby Michael Brial, Toby. It’s a very Roosters mix: the son of a legend, the son of a celebrity and the son of a rugby star.
All eyes on Penrith
Penrith are learning quickly about the attention and attacks that come with being premiers. Some of it has been unfair, some fair.
The distribution of a photo showing a “substance” on a phone sitting beside the premiership trophy was a prime example. Clive Churchill Medal-winning halfback Nathan Cleary was in the photo. The club had to produce another photo, of Tyrone May’s phone, that showed the same pattern, which people had assumed was the “substance”, to prove there was nothing untoward. It was clear this was designed to damage the club.
The Panthers are finding out the hard way how much scrutiny comes with being premiership winners.Credit:Getty
There was also a video of back-rower Viliame Kikau mocking the Rabbitohs while on the drink, singing “glory, glory to South Sydney”. The NRL is also unhappy about damage to the trophy during the celebrations.
Undoubtedly the greatest concern for the Panthers was a ridiculous social media post from May, who tried to justify his behaviour during the Panthers’ sex tape scandal. May pleaded guilty in 2019 to four counts of intentionally recording an intimate image without consent. Magistrate Robyn Denes told him during sentencing the following year that he was lucky to escape a jail sentence. He was handed a three-year good behaviour bond and ordered to perform 300 hours of community service.
May’s post, which was eventually deleted, talked about him growing out of the dirt. Somehow he thinks the “dirt” was created by people other than himself. He owes so many people an apology for behaviour that he has shown minimal public remorse for.
That May posted a photo with coach Ivan Cleary by his side is even more disappointing. In his finest hour, Cleary deserved better.
Words of wisdom
Our exclusive column about Sonny Bill Williams’ new book last week got the attention of players union boss Clint Newton. He is planning to send copies to players, as SBW’s battles with self-esteem, anxiety and fame demonstrate that even the very best have their demons.
Storm star had no memory of big night
If you think the Storm players are lying about having no recollection of the night they were recorded with white powder, think again. At least one of them had taken prescription medication.
The Storm had no idea about the video until I contacted them. As soon as I called a club official, a player contacted me in total disbelief — until I sent him the video. His immediate reaction was he had no idea where he was that night, who he was with and how they met the people who had filmed them.
It’s an ugly look but the NRL got the penalty right. The players are suffering significantly and it has cost them thousands. Cameron Munster is about to be a dad for the first time. He will be in rehab as his partner, Bianca, enters the final stages of pregnancy. She took a swipe at the coverage of Munster’s plight before deleting the post. A second post said she is proud of him for taking time “to become a better man”.
Munster is sure to lose endorsements as a result and Brandon Smith was set to have talks with a large company about some work that could have led to a career after football.
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