The influence of master coach Wayne Bennett is being felt far and wide, says NRL.com columnist Steve Mascord.
LET’S move the Heritage Round – thenceforth the fifth weekend of the NRL season should be the Wayne Bennett Round.
Wherever rugby league was played over the last four days, the shadow of the tall thin coach was cast across the ground. At the SCG he said he had made his decision but still wanted time to make it. At Suncorp Stadium, one coach set to lose his job to Bennett put on a Stoney face while one who had been set for the high jump until five days before spoke about “punching the air”.
At the other six matches, they mainly just talked about the Great Man, occasionally paying attention to the action.
But using that Canadian computer programme the NRL uses every season, an all-exciting, all-Bennett round can be formulated for next year with all teams wearing his face on their chests, swearing off alcohol for the week and offering laconic post-match comments.
On Friday night, what a great clash between the North Queensland Cowboys and Brisbane Broncos, the club that brushed Bennett versus the joint that he brushed! The winning side gets a bronzed brush and a guarantee that Bennett will consider coaching them in 2043. As long as news of who won the game does not leak out in the meantime...
Friday night’s second game brings together his first club, the Canberra Raiders, and his most recent, St George Illawarra.
Saturday’s early match is a cracker. Commemorating Bennett’s role in New Zealand winning the 2008 World Cup, the Warriors host Benji Marshall-led Wests Tigers at Mt Smart! There's a parade of 735 four year old sheep named "Wayne Bennett" at halftime. Anyone wearing an item of RM Williams clothing gets in for half price.
Back across the ditch, it’s Disciple Day at AAMI Park, where former Bennett protégé Craig Bellamy (Melbourne) lines up against the protégé’s protégé, Stephen Kearney (Eels). Bennett’s former favourite Petero Civoniceva will line up against possible future recruit Jamal Idris -if he is still there - when the Panthers take on the Bulldogs. The winning club gets one signed; black and white photograph of Bennett, which members of the team must share equally amongst themselves for the ensuing 12 months.
For Sunday’s first game, Bennett’s historical enemy Brian Smith will stage a protest against the Wayne Bennett Round when Sydney Roosters take on a team with no real connection to The Great Man at all, Gold Coast. Anyone mentioning Bennett will be ejected immediately from the Sydney Football Stadium, a Ghost Busters-style portrait of him with a cross through it is to be painted on the grass - but it will leak out afterwards that both clubs are secretly negotiating with him.
Cronulla and Manly will be moved to Bennett's home town of Warwick - the grand opening of the $17 million Bob Bennett Stand at Wayne's World Stadium.
And to finish the WBR with MNF, who else but Newcastle v South Sydney – a winner-take-all clash which will be graced by Bennett himself. Reclining at Bennett's feet high in a corporate box, Darius Boyd will be fed grapes and wine by scantily clad beauties as the fullback chomps on hunks of meat and is approached by curtsying club chief executives.
Before kick-off, Russell Crowe is to take to a stage on halfway and do immediate impersonations of any historical figure that Wayne Bennett requests over the public address system until The Great Man gets bored.
In front of the stage, Nathan Tinkler will patiently wait wearing solid-gold chainmail, bifocals made of pure uranium, a pterodactyl feather boa and pushing a wheelbarrow full of cash.
The views in this article are the authors’ and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.