The hardest part about the coming weeks won’t be the monumental task St George Illawarra face if they are to defend their title, but, according to back-rower Beau Scott, the prospect of losing the man who shaped his career.
It’s now three years since super-coach Wayne Bennett arrived at the Dragons to cast his magic wand over the club, in the process converting them from perennial under-achievers to 2010 Premiers and by far the most consistent side of the past three seasons.
But more than that, he has helped create and direct careers – none more so than Scott who has progressed from solid first-grader to NSW back-rower under Bennett’s watch.
“He has brought a lot to our club and we’ve achieved a fair bit too while he has been here,” Scott tells Big League, admitting that the veteran coach’s imminent departure is very much on the players’ minds.
“While he has been at the club we have had record numbers in Origin and obviously we won a premiership last year. I mean, that’s everything that goes along with Wayne Bennett I guess. Those are things you’ll never be able to take off any of us.
“At the same time a lot of players have played their best football under Wayne – me in particular. He has given me a lot of confidence in my football and that’s something I’ll always be grateful for.”
Scott isn’t one for in-depth analysis. Just like on the field, he prefers to let his actions speak and is reluctant to describe the transformation Bennett has helped him make. “It’s pretty hard to pinpoint. He doesn’t like people talking about him and doesn’t like the publicity himself.”
Much of it, however, comes down to basic self belief. After all, the Dragons squad that failed to live up to its enormous potential before Bennett’s arrival wasn’t so different to the one that has since reached three consecutive Finals Series, won two minor premierships and a maiden premiership as a merged entity.
“And I think it’s more about team self belief – having a belief in each other,” Scott says. “He’s brought a winning culture. It’s not that we hadn’t won games before, but he taught us how to do it on a regular basis.”
Scott’s progress over the past three years has been nothing short of phenomenal. Far from the most dynamic of players, he is renowned for his selfless teamwork – attracting little fanfare in a side packed full of stars. Nevertheless, when the NSW team sheets have been read out the past two years, Scott’s been there.
He is loved by Bennett, by former Blues coach Craig Bellamy (who went all out to try to lure him to Melbourne a few years back) and by current Blues coach Ricky Stuart for his reliability and determination to do whatever it takes.
You won’t hear as much from Scott, of course, and although he admits the Dragons have suffered post-Origin this season he is reluctant to complain – even referring to the enlarged spleen that forced him out of the Origin decider as “a little bit of an infection”.
“I missed a little bit of football after the third Origin because of that and I guess it was pretty hard coming back,” he said. “I think overall we had eight guys involved in Origin this year. That’s a pretty high number, so I think it’s got to take a little bit of time to get out of the slump.”
And Scott isn’t panicking about the Dragons’ struggles during the back end of the season. Once vaunted for their impenetrable defence and ability to shut out a game, they’ve looked vulnerable of late and were far from the St George Illawarra of old as Wests Tigers came roaring back in the second half last week to score a 21-12 win.
“The last couple of games we’ve played against the Tigers have been the same, so I don’t think it is cause for concern,” he says. “Teams turn up when they play us these days. We’ve had a few tight contests over the past few months and have gone down by a point or two. Last weekend was no exception.
“But we know what we want to achieve.”
Asked if the Dragons had a point to prove to those predicting they had lost their aura, Scott says: “I’m not sure what they mean. I don’t think we’ve got any point to prove. I’d hope individuals in the team are playing because they want to win, not because they’re playing to prove a point or for some reason like that.”