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In Touch: Winning is a habit

Leila McKinnon NRL.com Tue, Apr 26, 2011 - 9:00 AM

Winning is a habit. Copyright: Action Photographics


“Winning is not a sometime thing, it's an all time thing. You don't win once in a while, you don't do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” 

It is no coincidence that Australia’s super coach Wayne Bennett has been likened to the man who made this statement, the great American football coach Vince Lombardi.

Nor is it a coincidence that Australia’s first super rugby league coach, Jack Gibson, who is said to have had a huge influence on Bennett, was a fan of the legendary Green Bay Packers coach and was influenced by Lombardi's coaching and management style.

Lombardi won five NFL premierships and two Super Bowls and had a 9-1 play-off record; Gibson won five rugby league premierships, guiding the Eels to three in a row from 1981-83; while Bennett has won seven premierships and made 21 final appearances in 24 years of coaching.

In 21 years with Bennett as head coach, Brisbane won six premierships and their worst finish was seventh. And Bennett’s new club, the Dragons, won their first premiership as St George Illawarra and the World Club Challenge in his second year at the club (as St George, the club has 15 premierships). 

Coincidentally, Bennett’s understudy at the Broncos (1998-2002), current Storm head coach Craig Bellamy, has taken Melbourne to seven finals series appearances and four grand finals for three wins since his appointment eight years ago (although the 2007 and 2009 premierships were stripped for salary cap breaches).

Taking all of this into account, it is also no coincidence that the top three teams after seven completed rounds are the Broncos (6-1), Dragons (6-1) and Storm (5-2), supporting Lombardi’s claim that “winning is habit”.

The Broncos and Dragons in particular, with their round seven wins over the Tigers and Roosters on Friday night and yesterday, have perfected their trademark style of play which they generally do right “all the time”, not “once in a while”, emphasising again that winning can be habit-forming.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, looking at the finishing positions of some of the teams at the bottom of the ladder over the past 10 years or more, such as the Rabbitohs (2-5) and the Sharks (2-5), also adds weight to Lombardi’s claim that “unfortunately, so is losing (a habit)”.

Since re-entering the competition in 2002, the Rabbitohs have made the play-offs once and finished anywhere from ninth to 15th (last, three times). In the 10 years prior, they did not make any finals series, with ninth being their best finish. (N.B. this is not to take away from their incredible record of 20 premierships between 1908-1971; nor is it a reflection on current coach John Lang).

The Sharks have made the play-offs four times in the past 10 years, but finished 11th or worse on the other six occasions. Cronulla entered the competition in 1967 and are yet to win a premiership.

While many might argue that a team’s playing roster, injuries etc have more to do with winning than “habit”, have another look at Wayne Bennett’s record - 21 finals appearances in 24 years of coaching and seven premierships with two clubs.

He is only in his third season at the Dragons and while in the 10 years prior to his arrival, the club only missed the play-offs three times, finishing 9th, 10th and 13th, they had teams with arguably more talent than that which won the premiership in 2010.

Former St George Illawarra player Jason Ryles, now playing for the Roosters who lost yesterday’s ANZAC Day clash to the Dragons, said the difference between the Dragons under Bennett was their relentlessness and their consistency.

"They are not feared in a physical way, but they are relentless," Ryles said. "They don't make many errors; they don't let many tries in. It's Wayne Bennett's style of play.

"When I used to play for the Dragons (2000-08) when we were on, we were on, but we were too inconsistent. Now they are very consistent with everything they do. They are good at scrambling in defence; they always cover for each other. It's a trait of Wayne Bennett's that's been instilled in them.” 

Sounds very much like Lombardi’s theory … “You don't win once in a while, you don't do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time.”

And for a final word from Lombardi: “Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.

‘…You have to pay the price to win and you have to pay the price to get to the point where success is possible. Most important, you must pay the price to stay there.”

The Dragons' current style of play - and the Broncos' record - prove that Wayne Bennett has the ability to get his players to pay that price not only to get there, but to stay there.

Perhaps those who still don’t believe Lombardi’s edict that “winning is habit” are simply waiting for Bennett to win a premiership with a third club. Maybe then, they'll be convinced.

Regular In Touch columnist Leila McKinnon is in London to cover the royal wedding. She will return next week.