Wayne Bennett may be one of the game's greats – and during Magic Round will be at the helm of his 900th game – but his latest debutant had no idea who he was when speaking with him about signing with the Dolphins.
Valynce Te Whare has been named to make his NRL debut on Saturday night against the Sharks in a stunning rise for the rugby union convert, who played his first game of rugby league just last year, before going on to win the Hostplus Cup Centre of the Year award.
Dubbed ‘Val Meninga’ by fans due to his hulking frame, Bennett has instead taken to calling him ‘Val Smith’, but enjoyed the reference to his former charge Mal Meninga.
“Val Meninga, I like that line, I saw that the other day and I thought to myself, ‘what are the similarities between him and Mal Meninga?’ because I coached Mal, he was a great player, great guy,” Bennett told media after his side’s captain’s run.
“And the only thing I get the similarities with was the shorts, they are about the same size and that's the only similarity that I came up with … he’s no Mal Meninga, I can tell you that.
“But look, he's a bit of a good story, he's one of the first players we signed here.
“Peter O'Sullivan (Dolphins head of recruitment) saw him playing in New Zealand, playing rugby, he was in the schoolboys over there and rang him up, talked to him on Zoom and over he came.
“And to his credit, he's worked really hard and has made a big adaption from rugby to rugby league.
"We’ve invested a lot of time in him and it's worked out for both parties, so really pleased for him and look forward to watching him play.”
While Bennett was happy to talk at length about Te Whare, he was less inclined to speak about his own remarkable milestone, saying he still wasn’t sure if the coaching life was even for him.
“I never thought about being a coach, it's not something that I wanted to do and I'm still not sure if I want to be a coach,” Bennett said.
“I never had a plan about my coaching life or my coaching career and just found myself doing it and that's what I'm still doing today.”
Fittingly, Bennett's 900th game will be played at Magic Round, a flagship event at Suncorp Stadium which has been the stage for many memorable moments in recent years.
Match: Sharks v Dolphins
Round 10 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
The Dolphins face a tough ask against the second-placed Sharks, with experienced skipper Jesse Bromwich and centre Brenko Lee (both hamstring) joining Ray Stone (concussion) on the injured list.
“[Those players are] a bit of a loss, but that's footy … the other players are there, ready to take over and do their best for us,” Bennett said.