Wayne Bennett.

Wayne Bennett is widely considered to be the greatest coach in history, but he was no overnight success.

Everyone has to start somewhere and Bennett got his first break with the clipboard in hand more than 40 years ago as captain-coach with Brisbane Souths. 

In this interview with Rugby League Week, he dishes up a few quotes that still hold true today, such as "I don't measure success by the number of premierships my teams may have won" and "You're a successful coach, if you can mould a player into a better class of player".

This story was first published in Rugby League Week on March 5, 1977 and was titled 'Wins Will Come'.

When former international Wayne Bennett signed to play with Souths [Brisbane] this season it was just another step in his long-range football plans.

You might very well ask yourself what football plans there would be for a bloke who was making a comeback to A-grade football at an age (27) when most others were turning it in.

Well, Wayne had in mind turning his hand to coaching an A-grade team when his playing days were over.

Wayne Bennett in his playing days in the Brisbane competition in the 1970s.
Wayne Bennett in his playing days in the Brisbane competition in the 1970s. ©Rugby League Week/NRL Photos

Those days are far from over, but he now finds his long-term plans have been fulfilled overnight. Within weeks of his signing with Souths for 1977, club coach Tom Berry opted out of the last year of his two-year contract. His coaching job was up for grabs.

Bennett felt he still had a few years before being landed with an A-grade coaching job, but several club supporters figured otherwise. Under pressure, he applied, and once his bid was in it was no contest.

Souths picked him hands down even though one of the applicants was fiery state coach Barry Muir who had just left Redcliffe.

As soon as he got the appointment Wayne asked the club to be released from his playing contract. He figured he could best devote himself to the job if he didn't have to worry about his own playing effort.

But Souths said no to that caper. He'd signed as a player, they needed his skills as a player, so he'd have to play as well as coach.

Not only was Souths' committee confident about his appointment. The team was too. Greg Veivers immediately stepped aside as captain to make Bennett captain-coach.

This all happened to the 27-year-old policeman after he sat out the 1976 season. He devoted last year to his studies and successfully completed two subjects towards his diploma in police arts and sciences.

"I can't be involved with football all my life," he reasoned. "I had to think about my future in the police force."

He had the time, however, to coach two teams from the police academy and took the Ipswich representative side to the Carlton Cup final play-offs. But he missed playing. After all, he'd been doing that for a long time.

Born in Allora, he played his early football in the Warwick District, transferred later to Toowoomba where he played winger for Collegians and later All Whites. He made the State squad from Toowoomba and was still with All Whites when he earned his green and gold jersey.

In his early days in the Queensland squad and the two-month QRL intensive training program, he struck up a lasting friendship with Greg Veivers.

I can't be involved with football all my life.

Wayne Bennett

And not only with Greg, but also Greg's sister Trischa. He married her.

Wayne and Greg played in England after the 1972 Australian season and Wayne signed with Brisbane Brothers on his return. He made the State side again in 1973, was chosen for the 1974 team but was ruled out with a busted nose on the eve of the interstate series. In 1975 Bennett (now playing fullback) captained Brothers and ran away with the BRL try-scoring honours with 15 tries.

Rugby League Week asked Bennett if 1976 was a successful year for him in his academy coaching.
Wayne's answer was typical of his modesty: "I don't measure success by the number of premierships my teams may have won. You're a successful coach," said Wayne, "if you can mould a player into a better class of player.

"If I can bring a mediocre player up to A-grade standard, or make an A-grader into a top-class player, then I'll consider myself a success."

That success may be on the way, for he did admit there were a couple of prospects at the police academy who were "in the melting pot" and should erupt into grade football pretty soon.

This season Wayne is taking over a team of Magpies flushed with late-season success last year. Souths made it to the semi-finals with three unbelievable wins in five days after they had tied with
Valleys and Wynnum-Manly for the dubious fifth spot in the competition.

Wayne Bennett played for Australia from the Brisbane competition.
Wayne Bennett played for Australia from the Brisbane competition. ©Rugby League Week/NRL Photos

They beat Valleys on the Tuesday play-off, accounted for the Seagulls on Thursday night, then blasted No. 4 team, Redcliffe, out of the semis on Saturday. That was the end of their dash, but members of that team are forming the nucleus of their 1977 premiership race.

Bennett has no special coaching plans for them.

"My methods are the tried and proven methods," he said. "My aim for Souths is to get them playing consistently well. Wins will come along."

And from a man who carefully considers the future, that's the forecast the Magpies want to hear.