As Wayne Bennett prepares to coach his 900th game this weekend at Magic Round, NRL.com takes a look inside Wayne's world by speaking to the players, coaches, officials and rugby league legends that know him best as part of an exclusive series.
It's inside the coaching box where we'll begin as we unpack the characteristics, mannerisms and, at times, idiosyncrasies that make Wayne Bennett, the Super Coach.
Wayne Bennett: The Super Coach
Wayne Bennett vs Jack Gibson.
It might sound like a mythical showdown that could take place only in the mind of the game’s historians and footy tragics but let the record books show that on February 28, 1987, the two coaching geniuses matched wits at Seiffert Oval.
Launching his extraordinary career as co-coach of the Raiders alongside Don Furner, the then 37-year-old Bennett helped mastermind a 19-2 win over a Cronulla side mentored by Gibson, who had two decades of coaching and five premierships on his CV.
When Bennett takes his seat in the box for the 900th time in a premiership match on Saturday against the Sharks, the irony will surely not be lost on the 73-year-old that his first game was also against the team from the Sutherland Shire in front of 7000 hardy fans on a chilly Queanbeyan night.
Gibson and Bennett would match wits one more time in 1987, with the Raiders again taking the spoils at Endeavour Field, before Gibson took up the reins as NSW Origin coach in 1988 and then retired from coaching two years later.
Great Grand Final Moments: 1992 Steve Renouf Try
Big Jack's 1974-75 Roosters and his all-conquering Eels who produced a rare three-peat in 1981-82-83 are regarded as two of the finest club sides of all-time, with Bennett’s champion Broncos outfit of the 1990s staking their claim a decade after Parra reigned supreme.
After landing the coveted role as Brisbane’s first head coach in 1988, Bennett took a couple of seasons to get his eye in before a preliminary final berth in 1990 served notice of bigger things to come.
Sitting on the bench in that preliminary final loss to Penrith was 20-year-old Steve Renouf, a flying machine from Murgon who would go on to win four premierships and become the club’s greatest ever try-scorer with 142 four-pointers in 183 games.
Renouf made his first-grade debut in Round 3, 1989 alongside such Queensland luminaries as skipper Wally Lewis, halfback Allan Langer and enforcers Greg Dowling, Sam Backo and Gene Miles, and with the world at his dancing feet, the man they call ‘Pearl’ thrived under Bennett’s guidance.
“Wayne keeps it simple and that resonated back in 1988 and it still does today,” Renouf told NRL.com.
It’s a simple game, he doesn’t confuse things, you know where you stand with him and he has never changed tack with his coaching.Broncos legend Steve Renouf
“Recently I found a piece of historical paperwork he had given us back in 1989 and I sent it to him and I said, ‘I get a bit emotional with this sort of stuff’.
“Wayne got back to me and said, ‘that stuff is relevant and that’s why I’m relevant’. It was called ‘A Bronco Creed’ and Wayne gave it to us at the start of the ’89 season. It was laminated so we could carry it with us.
“When I read through those things I thought ‘that’s Wayne to a tee and that’s how he coaches’. It’s amazing that what was written at the start of 1989 that we worked on as a club in ’88 still holds true today.”
Having taken on the Broncos job with a five-year plan and a clear vision for success, Bennett duly delivered in 1992 when Langer led an all-star cast to a 28-8 grand final win over St George, with Renouf scoring a stunning 95-metre solo try as good as any seen in a decider.
A little slice of history followed in 1993 when the Broncos became the first side to come from fifth to win the premiership, surviving sudden-death games against Manly, Canberra and Canterbury before again taking care of the Dragons in the decider.
With Bennett ushering in the next generation of stars including Darren Lockyer and Gorden Tallis, the Broncos claimed the Super League crown in 1997 before taking out the inaugural NRL premiership in 1998 with Renouf, Langer, Michael Hancock. Andrew Gee, John Plath and Kevin Walters savouring a fourth title in seven years.
Walters stepped into the captaincy role when his great mate Langer shocked the league world by announcing his retirement eight rounds into the 1999 season, the Broncos stumbling into eighth place and being eliminated by the Sharks in a knockout final.
The 2000 season proved a triumph for Walters, Lockyer, Tallis and Bennett, the master mentor yet again finding a way to reinvent his team and take them to the top of the mountain.
Not only had Bennett taken Brisbane to five premierships in 13 years, he also savoured Origin series wins with Queensland in 1998 and ’98.
Looking back at the 1998 grand final
After taking a break in 1999 and 2000, Bennett returned to the Origin arena in 2001, famously recalling Langer from England to lead a young Maroons side to a remarkable 40-14 win in the series decider.
Stung by a series whitewash in 2000 and the Blues’ infamous ‘hand grenade’ celebration in Game 3 of that series, Queensland blooded 10 debutants in the 2001 series opener and came away with 34-16 win before NSW squared things up in Game 2.
Langer was just four weeks shy of his 35th birthday and hadn’t played Origin for 1107 days when he strode onto Brisbane’s ANZ Stadium for Game 3 but if Bennett believed he could be their savour then who were his awestruck teammates to argue.
“For us young blokes it was an amazing feeling knowing that a Queensland icon had come back from the UK and was going to put that jersey on one last time,” said Petero Civoniceva in ’40 Years of Origin’.
“Alf had a huge aura about him because of what he had achieved and what he stood for in the game.
“He really set the tone for us. It was an amazing week of preparation, and knowing we had Alf beside is really built our confidence and made us believe we could do it.”
And do it they did, running in eight tries to two, including a four-pointer by Langer to ice his remarkable comeback and vindicate the faith Bennett had placed in him.
It’s a theme that resonates through Bennett’s 36 years in the coaching caper, making players young and old walk taller and believe they can achieve great things.
Through the glory years at Red Hill to a Red V premiership in 2010 and the NRL’s newest franchise the Dolphins in 2023, the game’s most respected and revered coach has made a habit of defying convention and defying the critics.
“Wayne always has the last laugh,” says Renouf. “I always say ‘be very careful what you say about Wayne’s teams and the way he coaches’ because he always gets you in the end!
“Plenty of people wanted to knock the Dolphins because they missed all those marquee players but they beat the Roosters in their first game and then equalled the biggest ever comeback against the Titans.
“They trailed by 20 at half-time but his message would have been to focus on what is in front of you. He knew the players would have been hurting so he wouldn’t push that any more.
“Wayne won’t be getting ahead of himself. There will be nothing about making the top eight in his speeches because he doesn’t want those boys to get ahead of themselves.
Crazy Finishes: Dolphins v Titans - Round 8, 2023
“If we had a bad first half back in the Broncos days he would just speak to us individually and make sure we were okay and move on to another player because he didn’t want to compound the thought process.”
And so it is that Bennett arrives at game 900, fittingly at his old stomping ground Suncorp Stadium and fittingly against the Sharks, the team he confronted in that first game in 1987 and in the Super League grand final a decade later.
Still keeping it simple and still keeping it real, as only the Super Coach can.
"A lot of young coaches get lost in the theory of the game, Wayne doesn't," said Mark Gasnier, who returned from a stint in French rugby midway through 2010 to help the Dragons to the premiership.
"Wayne keeps those principles simple and what works for him and makes sure the players can execute the structure under fatigue and under pressure.
"The principles drive the structure, not the other way around.
Wayne’s biggest strength is his ability to relate to people and man manage.Dragons great Mark Gasnier
"Think how far footy has come since he started. He has seen off Generation Z, Y and X, he's probably seen off the half alphabet!
"His principles don’t change, the only things that do are the communication methods, the music in the dressing room, the dress sense – all those generational things – but Wayne’s pretty tight with his principles on and off the field and that’s what has held him in good stead the whole way through.
"It's a real skill to keep yourself relevant and be able to motivate all the different types of personalities with all the different circumstances changing around you and that speaks volumes to how good Wayne is.
"He doesn’t prioritise friendship over standards, the team always comes first, and that’s why he is able to bring a group of men together and motivate them to perform better than anyone else."
Part II of Inside Wayne's World: The Father Figure is released on Tuesday.