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How Bennett almost ended, and saved, Garth Brennan's career

Wayne Bennett is the man that almost ended Garth Brennan's coaching career. He's also the man that saved it.

It was 2012, and the seven-time premiership-winning coach had just been sworn in as the saviour under the Nathan Tinkler-led Newcastle Knights.

The previous season Brennan had led the club's under 20s to their first semi-final appearance. Six months later, he was being told by the man he idolised that there was no longer a coaching role for him at the club.

That's when Phil Gould called and offered him a chance at the Penrith Panthers, where the now Gold Coast Titans coach would go on to serve an apprenticeship to rival any other in the game.

"There were times, yeah, where I was dirty on Newcastle," Brennan told as he prepares to square off against Bennett for the first time in Sunday's derby at Suncorp Stadium.

"There were times I would be cursing having to get back in the car and drive two and a half hours to Penrith thinking 'why couldn't have Wayne kept me? Why couldn't I work with Wayne Bennett'.

"Newcastle was home. I'd been a Newcastle boy all my life. The reality that I had to move, that I had to move away from my wife and my kids. Did I really want to do that? Did I want to go back into the police and give this football dream away?"

How Bennett's rejection saved Brennan

He was beginning to feel sorry for himself, but Brennan's wife Rachel, who was juggling running a successful law firm and raising three children, helped him through it.

"My wife was the one who turned around and said: 'Garth get over it. It's the best thing that's ever happened for you'. For her to say that, who it was affecting more than anyone, made me realise 'you're right, it was the best thing that ever happened to me'. 

"It gave me another lease on life. If I had stayed at Newcastle, I wouldn't be sitting here today, I believe. I respect Wayne and appreciate what he's done for me, forcing me to make a decision and move on and make a choice has actually helped me become a better coach."

There's no denying Brennan's disappointment at the time, especially given the excitement he had about working with the coach he considers the greatest of all time.

But he understood this was the nature of the beast. And at the end of 2017, when he was appointed as Neil Henry's successor at the Titans, he did to others what Bennett did to him six years ago.

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"I have no resentment towards Wayne. I've done the same thing now that I'm a head coach," he said.

"I've brought my people in. That's the way of the industry we work in. It can be cruel. I can't be critical because I certainly did the same thing. You want the people you can trust and the people you can work with, because you need results.

"I was disappointed, no doubt about it. For someone I had looked up to for so long, I was really hoping to work with Wayne as a coach, but it wasn't meant to be. I got to work with Gus (Phil Gould), who has made me who I am today."

For six years, Brennan spent hundreds of nights away from the family home. Thousands of hours on the road travelling between Newcastle and Penrith in pursuit of a head coaching role in the Telstra Premiership.

He sacrificed a lot, earning the admiration and respect of Gould, who was pivotal in helping Brennan secure a job with the Titans.

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Brennan never lost sight of what was truly important.

"I would have walked away tomorrow. At the end of the day family is first for me," he said.

"If it got to the stage where I have to choose between my wife and kids or coaching and rugby league - it's a no-brainer. My wife and my kids will always come first. If it had have got to the stage where Rachel said you can't do this anymore, I would have walked away. But I knew the support I had from her - and my mum and dad are my biggest fans."

Throughout many of Brennan's 18 years in the police force prior to his coaching days, he spent most shifts in a patrol car.

It gave him a sense of appreciation. 

"I remember Sterlo saying years ago, find your passion, make it your job and you'll never work a day in your life," Brennan said.

"I used to drive in a car for two and a half hours, but there are police officers going to work getting shot at, spat at, abused and yelled at for eight hours. I'm sitting in the car listening to the radio or talking to mates - hands free of course."

Gutho cleared for comeback ... almost

Clint Gutherson has been medically cleared to play for the Parramatta Eels. He's back in full training and is keen to return next week against the Penrith Panthers at ANZ Stadium.

He's bouncing off the walls, letting those at the club know about it.

But the Parramatta Eels want to err on the side of caution. The club won't allow the winless start to the season to influence their decision. His return date was officially round eight. That's the nine-month anniversary of the season-ending knee injury he suffered against the Wests Tigers.

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It's also the period of time most medical experts believe is required to minimise the likelihood of rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament again.

Gutherson has torn it twice. The cruel injury to Panthers prop Sam McKendry in round two is a harsh reminder of just how difficult it is returning from two ACL injuries, with the Penrith prop now sidelined for an extended period after doing his ACL for the third time just two games into his comeback.

The Eels could do with Gutherson on Easter Monday at ANZ Stadium against the Wests Tigers following the injuries to Bevan French and Jarryd Hayne. French may be back next week but Hayne is facing a month on the sidelines, with fears it could be six weeks.

When Gutherson is finally given the green light, which understands is likely to be against the Canberra Raiders in round six, expect him to waltz straight back into the side and reclaim the No.1 jersey, regardless of who is available.

Joint venture united from top to bottom

There have been rumblings for some time that it's actually the Wests side of the organisation that is now controlling the Wests Tigers.

We've seen first hand with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs over the past couple of months the impact unrest at board level can have on a club, but Tigers chairwoman Marina Go is adamant her board members are all on the same page.

"We're all moving in the same direction," she said.

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"It's a very unified organisation, regardless of what people will say. Wests are not running the place, we're a unified organisation, regardless of what is being said.

"We may not always agree, that is true. We have Balmain, we have Wests and we have independent directors - and we don't always agree. But whatever we agree in the end we all sign up to and all commit to it. We are unified in the outcome. That's what a board does."

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the ARLC, NRL, NRL clubs or State associations.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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