Master coach Wayne Bennett has been heaped with praise despite his underwhelming stint at Newcastle which comes to an end on Sunday.
On the eve of his last hurrah at Newcastle, Broncos-bound Wayne Bennett has been heaped with praise despite his underwhelming Knights stint.
And it’s the opposition handing out the compliments.
The end will come to Bennett’s rollercoaster ride at Newcastle when the 12th-placed Knights host St George Illawarra on Sunday, a match that will have no bearing on the NRL finals.
Newcastle failed to make the top eight in two of Bennett’s three seasons at the Knights helm – a record that would not sit well with the seven-time title-winning master coach.
Cynics would even suggest that Bennett may have lost his mojo despite Newcastle’s late 2014 surge. They have won seven of their last 10 games and four straight at home.
However, unlikely ally Dragons playmaker Benji Marshall could not speak highly enough of Bennett as his former New Zealand mentor prepared to draw the curtain at Newcastle against his former club St George Illawarra.
Marshall even defended Bennett’s lukewarm Knights stint.
“I think as a coach it is tough to go into a new club where you don’t probably have all the players that you have recruited,” he said.
“I know from my experience with Wayne, he is one of the most thorough, professional coaches that I have ever had.
“He would have been doing everything he could to make that club a success.
“In my mind he is one of the greatest coaches that I have ever been coached by.”
Bennett’s final year at Newcastle could not have been more tumultuous.
There was Russell Packer’s arrest and jail term, Alex McKinnon’s tragedy and the ongoing saga with now former owner Nathan Tinkler.
Marshall said Bennett would have been the glue that held Newcastle together.
“I think coaching is about knowing your players and being able to manage that and he is one of the best in the business at that,” said Marshall, who bonded at the 2008 World Cup with then New Zealand assistant Bennett.
Bennett’s bond with some Newcastle players won’t be breaking any time soon.
With Packer, Dane Gagai and Darius Boyd already tipped to follow him to the Broncos, Bennett claimed on the Knights website that he would be taking rake Travis Waddell.
Willie Mason, Adam Cuthbertson, Timana Tahu, Josh Mantellato, Matt Minto, Michael Dobson and Anthony Quinn will also play their final game for Newcastle on Sunday.
It was always going to be an emotional game with Newcastle hosting their Old Boys Day for former players.
But if anyone was going to overcome the odds on Sunday it is the Dragons – since 1999 they have won 13 of their 15 games in Newcastle.
The 11th-placed Dragons’ finals hopes were extinguished by last week’s loss to Brisbane.