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Wayne Bennett was sacked by Brisbane last year for insisting on fulfilling his coaching contract for 2019.

That may sound like a simplistic summation of a complex affair, but after watching close-up Bennett's final days at the club he coached for 25 years and sifting through the spin and the myths surrounding his axing, that is what I believe was the catalyst for his sacking in a nutshell.

When Bennett went to Broncos HQ on Friday, November 30 and announced he was not going to be part of a coaching swap with South Sydney coach Anthony Seibold he knew that would lead to a swift axing.

How did it all come to that and why?

Firstly, it is important to examine Bennett and the Broncos hierarchy's stance on the coaching landscape for 2019, after Bennett had been told last July he would not be coaching the club in 2020.

Bennett sent a text on September 25 to the Broncos players telling them he would be the coach for 2019 and encouraging them to return to pre-season training with a fire in their bellies. NRL.com broke the story and printed the contents of that text.

Souths coach Wayne Bennett.
Souths coach Wayne Bennett. ©NRL Photos

He went overseas to coach England in October and by the time he had returned to Brisbane he had already been announced as the coach of South Sydney for 2020, but the drums were beating for a coaching swap with Seibold to take place immediately, a narrative that was dominating the media discussion.

Bennett’s future came to a head when he met with Broncos chairman Karl Morris on Saturday, November 24. NRL.com spoke to Bennett within hours of that meeting where he outlined what had been said by Morris. I contacted the Broncos to get their side of it and they agreed what Bennett had said to me was accurate.

So accurate that the Broncos chose to use Bennett’s quotes to NRL.com in an official statement the club posted on its website.

The statement quoted Morris saying Bennett was the club's coach for 2019. It also contained Bennett's comments: "Speaking after today's meeting, Bennett told nrl.com.au: 'I had a meeting with the Chairman this morning and I asked him what was happening in 2019 and he said 'nothing has changed Wayne. I gave you a commitment you would be here in 2019 and that is the way it is going to remain'."

That is as definitive a statement as you will ever see from an NRL club about a coach, even quoting his statements to a news outlet about what took place at one of the most important meetings in Brisbane history.

I had several conversations with Bennett about the coaching swap where he reiterated he had not been told anything about it by the Brisbane hierarchy. He was well aware it was bubbling along in the background but was frustrated there was no "man to man" conversation held with him.

Stories that a swap was still imminent continued to surface and Bennett went to Brisbane training Purtell Park on Friday, November 30 and told waiting media "I have a  big decision to make today".

He didn’t say much more than that, but it soon became clear he was on his way to Broncos HQ to hold a press conference.

I spoke to Bennett in person and then on the phone as I was driving to Red Hill. He asked what I thought the Broncos' position was on his future. I told him they and NewsCorp were fed up to the teeth with him and that, as I understood it, they intended to put out a media release later that day saying Bennett had gone to them asking for a release from the final year of his contract and that they had granted his wish.

Rabbitohs: Round 7

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He exploded, and said that was rubbish.

There is no doubt the breakdown in communication between Bennett and the club’s CEO Paul White and chairman Morris had led to a dysfunctional situation.

Through that preceding week Bennett had conversations with NewsCorp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller where he conceded the situation had become untenable.

The previous Saturday he had been assured of his job for 2019 in an official Broncos release, and then in the coming days media were being told a swap was on its way.

Bennett had also gleaned from South Sydney officials that a swap was what the Broncos wanted. The only ones who hadn’t told him to pack his bags early were the Broncos CEO and chairman.

Bennett agreed with Miller that he would go, on the condition his staff were looked after financially, far better than the three months notice they were being offered. Other NRL clubs had already gone back to pre-season training and there were no jobs available for his trusty lieutenants Jeremy Hickmans and Jason Demetriou.

NewsCorp refused to budge on the offer to staff, so Bennett made it clear he wouldn’t go. The Broncos and NewsCorp wanted the narrative to be Bennett was leaving of his own accord and not being sacked.

Bennett was prepared to wear that, but not if his staff didn't get a deal that satisfied him.

Bennett then announced he was staying on. He knew he was going to get the sack from that moment on.

On the morning he left Purtell Park, he rang Rabbitohs boss Shane Richardson and star forward Sam Burgess, and Broncos director Neil Monaghan, also a NewsCorp employee, to say he wasn't leaving. He sent Morris a text message to that effect and asked White to go to the media conference with him, an offer he did not take up.

Bennett then announced he was staying on. He knew he was going to get the sack from that moment on. That happened two days later via a voicemail message from White.  

The Broncos have briefed media on why they sacked Bennett and the subject of insubordination. Reports surfaced of Bennett involving himself in South Sydney’s 2019 affairs.

Wayne Bennett during the trip to England to coach the team against New Zealand.
Wayne Bennett during the trip to England to coach the team against New Zealand. ©NRL Photos

From Brisbane's perspective Bennett had gone rogue with his comments about White and Morris not fronting the media.

The affair known as "Barbecuegate", where Bennett and White hosted shindigs on the same evening, added to their annoyance.

The Broncos were also not amused by Bennett leaving Brisbane HQ on Thursday, November 22 laying down in the back of a car in what was his own "Escape from Alcatraz" routine to avoid the media, as he had done 34 years previously in the back of his then father-in-law Jack Veivers' car after Souths had been walloped by Wynnum-Manly in the 1984 BRL grand final.

One Broncos official told me the coaching saga had been "turned into a circus act" by Bennett's antics.

From Bennett's side he was "enjoying the moment" and the theatre of rugby league. The game needed more humour, and Bennett was providing a bit of fun to a heated situation.

From my perspective on the subject of leaks, Bennett had nothing to "leak" to the media. Rugby league journalists speak to coaches and officials off the record and on background all the time.

That's the way it works in the NRL, and in the reporting of politics and business.

Bennett did not reveal any confidential information about the club’s operations or financials. He would speak about football department operations, of which he was in charge.

He also stood accused of getting journalists to ask questions of White prior to his media conferences. It is worth getting a sense perspective on that.

Bennett would speak about his coaching future with frustration and often say things like "you should be asking the chairman or CEO about this or that".

He was always up front about that and had grown frustrated at having to answer the questions all by himself, hardly a sackable offence.

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Bennett had done a deal with South Sydney for 2020 and 2021 and had not done one for 2019 until he got sacked.

A NewsCorp report, hours before Bennett's firing was announced, appeared with accusations that Bennett had allegedly cancelled a Rabbitohs pre-season training camp and been contacting South Sydney players about the 2019 season. The decision to sack him had already been made 48 hours earlier at the highest levels of NewsCorp.

Bennett's take on what transpired is far different.

He was in the United Kingdom when Richardson asked him to ring several Rabbitohs players because they were soon coming off contract and Souths wanted Bennett to reassure them that they were wanted for 2020 and beyond, which he did.

He wasn't asking them to break their contracts, the Broncos weren't pursuing them and Bennett did not feel as though there was any conflict in doing so.

While in England on the team bus Bennett had Tom and George Burgess on either side of him. The subject of pre-season camps came up and the Burgess brothers told Bennett they were going to the Australian Institute of Sport as they had done the previous year.

Bennett, who had signed for Souths for 2020 by that stage, said when he arrived they would be "going bush to do something in the scrub" as he often did at Brisbane.

It was South Sydney officials, having become convinced Bennett was going to be swapped with Seibold, who decided to not go ahead with the camp in 2019.

Who said what, and to whom behind the scenes, will always be disputed but the situation sums up the main problem that surfaced in Bennett's final days at Brisbane – a complete communication breakdown between the key players.

The coaching swap was being negotiated on a presumption, not on straight talk.

Bennett was working off repeated statements by Broncos officials that he was coach for 2019, while behind the scenes both club hierarchies had convinced themselves a swap was on the way.

From Bennett's side he was "enjoying the moment" and the theatre of rugby league.

He does not blame Souths for that, rather he suspects they were unaware of how far the communication breakdown between Bennett and his employers had sunk.

Bennett was on the nose at the Broncos and remains convinced it was Brisbane officials who wanted the swap to happen, despite their public pronouncements.

He thus left the club he had helped build, winning six titles along the way, with his final pronouncement at Broncos HQ being a simple statement that he intended to honour his coaching deal.

The story of Bennett's sacking will be debated, remain relevant and written about for as long as the Broncos exist, a sad ending to a club career that reached the greatest of heights.

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

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