Something is not quite right. Here is the Newcastle coach sitting in a Cronulla change room, reminiscing about a player from St George Illawarra.
But what’s really strange about this picture of Wayne Bennett, half an hour after his maiden win as Newcastle coach, is that he’s laughing. And it’s not his trademark wry chuckle. The man defined as much by his steely front as his seven premierships is having a real belly laugh.
“He’s hard to forget,” says a smiling Bennett, blue eyes moist. “He’s one of those really special guys you meet in rugby league, someone that everybody likes and you can’t help but like because he’s genuine.”
The man he’s talking about is Michael Weyman, the Dragons front-rower who became one of the best friends of rugby league’s most decorated coach.
“Wayne’s a mate for life and he’s always only a phone call away,” says Weyman. “Everyone who’s been associated with Wayne knows he’s there forever.”
Under Bennett, Weyman went from being a fringe first grade player, who played just 47 games in six seasons at Canberra, to a prop with Origin and Test representation under his belt. He says the man they used to call ‘St Benny’ is owed a lot of credit for that growth.
“He got me to believe in myself. I know what I’ve got to do and everything’s nice and simple for me, and when you can get everything nice and simple and believe in yourself, it works wonders.”
Weyman’s love for football began as a child growing up in Moruya with mum, Narelle, and dad, Ack, both rugby league diehards. The local football ground is named after Ack.
“Wherever I played football, Dad would be there,” Weyman remembers. “He’s been to every game; I don’t think he’s missed a game since I’ve been at the Dragons or the Raiders.
“If I was to play football for Moruya Sharks first grade, Dad would be over the moon – he’s that proud of me.”
It was a pride that Bennett shared very early on, too. Without having met him, Bennett’s first act as Dragons coach was to secure Weyman’s signature on a move from the Raiders.
“The day I took the job at the Dragons is the day I got in touch with Craig Young to get in touch with him,” Bennett says. “I watched him play at Canberra for a number of years and I just thought he was a wasted talent.”
The decision to make the trip to Kogarah was one Weyman will never regret. It’s already put a premiership ring on his finger, but something he’ll value more is the one he wears on his left hand every day.
“It was the best day of my life to marry Alison, the girl I went to school with,” says Weyman. “She’s been through a fair bit along with way with the football but she’s a great support.”
Weyman was married just a fortnight after the 2010 Grand Final and not surprisingly it’s a time he remembers fondly. The couple is now expecting their first child in early May.
Rugby league offers few sweeter rewards than an NRL Grand Final victory, but Michael Weyman will likely take just as much satisfaction from knowing how valued he was in that side.
“My proudest moment with him was at the Grand Final,” Bennett recalls. “I knew that we couldn’t win the premiership without him. He was that important, because he gave confidence to everyone in the team.”
Weyman is already looking to life after footy, with ambitions to follow a career in civil engineering. Now into his last year of his TAFE course, Weyman admits he was approached for input when WIN Stadium began collapsing at the end of last year.
“I had an opinion but I don’t think they’d listen to an assistant, a bloke that’s still studying,” he jokes. “But I love watching that stuff. I suppose to other people it would be boring but I could sit down and watch a bloke on an excavator for days.”
Then there’s this revelation about Weyman from Bennett, a man who has coached everyone from Gorden Tallis to Glenn Lazarus to Shane Webcke: “I’d have him in any team I coached,” says Bennett with an authoritative nod. “I wouldn’t have a hesitation.”