The secrets to Bennett's success ahead of 800-game landmark

Absolute control.

That is what Wayne Bennett wanted over the football department when he became coach of the Brisbane Broncos in 1988, and what he was subsequently given by directors Barry Maranta, Gary Balkin, Paul Morgan and Steve Williams.

It is that "absolute control" that the Brisbane Broncos coach has retained for his entire career and a key reason why he will coach his 800th premiership match against the Parramatta Eels at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.

Bennett, now 68, has no control over father time which is why the Broncos have approached Melbourne's Craig Bellamy to sound him out as a potential successor at the end of 2019, but this is not a story about the recent goings on at Broncos HQ.

NRL.com spoke to Bennett as part of a series of articles on the 30-year celebrations of the Broncos where he outlined a cornerstone of his success, bestowed upon him by the four initial directors.

"There was a discussion I had with them where I said that I want total control of team selection, total control over who came to play at the club and total control of the staff," Bennett told NRL.com.

"In all the years that we were together, I can honestly say that those directors never interfered once.

"They had opinions about things and they expressed those opinions but whatever decision I went with they backed me."

Bennett said the "no meddling" edict was vital to the early success of the Broncos which resulted in five premierships in the first 12 years.

"I knew at the beginning that I had to get that part across the line because human nature told me that if they started to interfere I would lose control," he said.

"I'd seen enough of that in European soccer and in Australia in other sports where clubs had meddled with their coaches and results were never forthcoming."

Maranta, the founding chairman of the club, based a lot of his own philosophies about administration around his study of sporting franchises in the United States. His own ethos aligned with that of Bennett.

"The owner and the front office don't tell the coach who to pick and what to do. If you do and they fail, then you can't very well sack the coach," Maranta told NRL.com.

"I'd watched the way the best coaches operated in  America. You don't tell Tom Landry at the Dallas Cowboys. You don't tell Bill Walsh at the [San Francisco] 49ers. You don't tell Dan Reeves at the Denver Broncos.

 "So we gave Wayne full authority. It is not to say we didn't have our comments. One of the lighter sides of our relationship was that we would say 'why are you picking that bloke?’. We would tell him who we would pick and why, but that doesn't mean it happened. He picked who he wanted to and we respected that."

Wayne Bennett and Gorden Tallis after the 1998 grand final.
Wayne Bennett and Gorden Tallis after the 1998 grand final. ©NRL Photos

When Bennett spoke on Wednesday about why he felt more than capable of continuing to coach for the foreseeable future he touched on another key plank in his success – the continual quest for self-improvement. With seven premierships to his credit, he does not rest on his past achievements.

"I'm not getting any sillier with coaching I can tell you – it's a job you continually learn at," he said.

"I've been good enough all these years to make sure I haven't taken a position that I know everything because I don't. I've been improving myself and I think at this point in my life I’ve still got a lot to offer."

Maranta was a trailblazer as an administrator and he saw the same qualities in a young Bennett. He also saw a thirst for knowledge outside of the usual spectrum.

I'm not getting any sillier with coaching I can tell you – it's a job you continually learn at

Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett

"The Brisbane Broncos got very close to the Denver Broncos and every year we would go there or they would come here," Maranta said.

"Wayne would sit down with Dan Reeves and they would share ideas. Bennett said to me 'what I am doing is consolidating what I think with someone else's thoughts'.

"He wanted to improve himself and become a better coach and he was prepared to look outside the Australian scene to do that."

Bennett is a survivor and he has outlasted attempts to get rid of him from within and without.

Take 1991 for example. The knives were out. King Wally Lewis had been sacked as captain at the end of 1989 and had left the club, and the Broncos were in a slump.

TV station Channel 10 did a phone poll and the public said the culprit was Bennett and he should be axed.

"I was watching the news Sunday night when Channel 10 did that poll in 1991 about Bennett getting the sack and I thought 'stuff this'," Maranta recalled.

"I told our media man Kev Kelliher that the chairman was going to make a statement around lunchtime Monday.

"Bennett wasn't very affable to the media and I'd got him reluctantly to agree that Mondays we would put on a luncheon at the leagues club. All the journos would come in and mostly you'd get six or seven come in and get their stories for the week from Wayne so that he could go about his business for the rest of the week.

"The word was that Bennett was getting sacked so the place was packed with 30 or 40.

"I simply thanked the media for coming and said that I'd signed Bennett for another five years."

That story is one that Bennett has mythologised a tad over the years. Maranta's version lines up with the written history of the Broncos in a book penned by Jack Galloway. Bennett tells the story this way:

"At some stage around the time that happened Paul Morgan called me in the office and said 'the board's had a meeting and decided to offer you a lifetime contract'," he told NRL.com.

"I said 'I couldn't put up with you for that long Paul'. Then we both had a big laugh and walked out and he told the media I'd just agreed to a lifetime contract and that I wouldn’t be leaving the place.

"That was it. The media shut up and never said another word for 17 years."

The outcome was the same either way you look at that great tale, and the lessons stark. Bennett has a way of prevailing when all seems lost.

Bennett has a contract in place with the current administration until the end of 2019, but in his first 21 years at the club his tenure was secured with little more than a nod, a wink and a firm shake of the hand.

"Their trust in me was unbelievable and in all the years those four directors were there I never signed one contract," he said.

"It was a handshake deal and whatever they said they'd do for me, they did for me. They didn't want me to sign a contract. It was a unique relationship with blokes that had their houses and it all on the line if it didn't work.

"They allowed a young coach to go on and do a lot of things with only the confidence they gave me at that time. They believed in me.

"They went through a lot to get me [from Canberra] and when they got me they made sure I stayed."

The reason they did was because Maranta and his fellow directors wanted a coach who took the long-term view.

Wayne Bennett after the 1992 grand final.
Wayne Bennett after the 1992 grand final. ©NRL Photos

"We gave Bennett a five-year plan to get a premiership and in 1992 he delivered,” Maranta said.

"We needed someone like Bennett who had a five-year vision and not a five-month vision. That is why we never panicked in the first few years.”

Bennett had recruited the building blocks of success, but it took time to create the dream team that he ultimately did, which he knew it would.

"In 1988 I'd just come out of 12 months coaching Canberra and I knew how tough the Sydney comp was and the quality of players in that competition," he said.

"I didn't share the hype of the fans and people who love the game. I didn't doubt what we could eventually do but I had to make sure we got it all right at the beginning, which we did.

"Kevin Walters was in waiting in Canberra because he'd done a three-year deal there when I took him there with me [in 1987] and he'd only done one year when I left.

“He was pencilled in to come home. Steve Renouf was there. Andrew Gee was a kid there. Alf [Allan Langer] was there and Mark Hohn."

"We got sixth place in 1989. In 1990 we played in the prelim final. In 1991 we finished in sixth and then in 1992 we won the minor premiership and the premiership …  and away we went from there."  

Went from there they certainly did. Bennett was in charge of all six Brisbane titles and one at St George Illawarra.

He will coach his 800th game at premiership level on Thursday night. Bennett has been at the helm of the Broncos for 617 games and coached St George Illawarra for 79 games, Newcastle for 75 and Canberra for 28.

How much longer will he go on? The man himself doesn't know.  Bennett revealed on Wednesday he'd had offers to coach other clubs as recently as the last two weeks.

Bellamy may be on his way to the Broncos in 2020 but Bennett may still be kicking on.

His answer to when he will know when it is time to pull the pin sums up exactly why you wouldn't back against him coaching 900 games.

"[You know when your time's up] when you don't want to get out of bed at half-past five," he said.

"When you don't want to work until nine o'clock at night nearly every day. When you don't want to come here and enjoy these blokes and be around them. When you don't want to enjoy the things they deal with. When you don’t want to challenge them. When you are sitting in your office and not wanting to do your job.

"That's when you know you are finished, but I don't tick any of those boxes right now.

"I’m not going to walk away from something I love because someone thinks I can't do it anymore."