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Bennett shows no signs of softening: Ticker

Having reported on Wayne Bennett for close to 40 years I can’t help thinking he pulled off yet another coaching masterstroke at the weekend.

It’s nothing new for Bennett to adopt an ‘us against them’ mentality. He has been pulling that card out since his State of Origin days.

When he publicly lambasted Broncos halves Kodi Nikorima and Anthony Milford in full view of the media at training last week, alarm bells sounded.

I had a gut feeling it was going to be classic Bennett.

Within hours, reports of him ripping into his halves - who’d both been pretty ordinary in the club’s opening round loss to the Dragons - were flooding the internet and social media.

Just 24 hours before the club’s marquee NRL clash with the Cowboys, Bennett chooses to let fly?

Brisbane won another thriller 24-20.

When Bennett walked out of Friday night’s post-game press conference telling the media: “you won’t ever divide us” it became clear he’d used those same critics to help plot a victory over the Cowboys.

His players said as much after the game.

I have sat (or, more correctly, stood) through hundreds of Wayne Bennett pressers over the years. They’re a like a mix of comedy, drama and scary movies rolled into one.

But I can’t recall him delivering a message to the media in such a way and then walking out the way he did last Friday night.

Immediately, and somewhat predictably, he was accused of grandstanding by some southern media who, for whatever reason, think he should do whatever they ask.

But that’s not Bennett’s style; never has been, never will be.

Mind games - now that’s a different thing altogether.

When you attack the Brisbane Broncos, you attack Bennett’s family.

After all, he was the man the Broncos’ founding owners, headed by the late Paul Morgan, entrusted to create a club with high standards and a culture that stood them out from the rest.

Bennett has never wavered from that commitment to Porky Morgan.    

No doubt the unsavoury Matt Lodge affair has made things extremely prickly between the Broncos and the media who’ve been pushing the story.

To be honest, I can’t see that relationship healing too soon.

The media have a job to do and they have latched on Lodge story like a starving dog with a bone.

That’s what they do, just like Bennett uses any means to secure a win.

No difference.

Now the media can ask all the questions they want, but they are not the police.

Their questions may sometimes be dismissed with a “no comment” or such.

Bennett, and every other NRL coach, is required to attend or send a club representative to the official post-match press conference.

They are not required to answer any question they don’t want to answer.

And just for the record, Bennett didn’t storm out of the press conference - he answered a number of questions, then made his own statement and walked out of the room.

I can remember Brian Smith ‘storming’ out of a press conference in Brisbane many years ago, and I’ve seen Des Halser, Ricky Stuart and Geoff Toovey lose their cool.

It happens.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t take the southern media long to rip into Bennett describing his display as “grandstanding, arrogant and petulant”, among other things.

The fact is, Brisbane never need added motivation to play well against the North Queensland Cowboys.

Their previous 10 clashes had produced some of the best games played with never much more than a few points between them - including four golden point results.

Their epic 2015 grand final ranks in the all-time top five.

The respect the players from these two teams - many of them Queensland State of Origin teammates - have for each other brings out the best in their competitive nature.

There is always so much pride on the line when they clash.

They go at each in other in the right spirit from the opening whistle and never stop.

But back to Bennett.

What’s that old saying: ‘don’t poke the bear’.

Well the media didn’t just poke him, they took to the seven-time premiership coach with a big stick after Brisbane’s heavy loss to St George-Illawarra.

If you believe the critics - which Bennett never has and never will - Brisbane’s  2018 season was virtually over after just 80 minutes.

Eight teams lost in the opening round, including Manly being beaten by last year’s wooden spoon holders Newcastle and pre-season premiership favourites Sydney Rooster falling to another 2017 cellar-dweller, Wests Tigers.

Yet Bennett and Brisbane - who’d been smashed unmercifully the previous weeks over the Lodge affair - copped more criticism from the media and on social media than any other after round one.

How could Bennett field a side in round one that looked so underdone?

How could he play skipper Darius Boyd when he is clearly carrying an injury?

How could he play Nikorima and Milford, both ball runners who don’t gel, in the halves?

Last year Nikorima and Milford played together in the halves 10 times and won eight games.

But this year they are suddenly incompatible?

Brisbane looked short of a gallop against the Dragons, who are two-from-two after coming from behind to beat Cronulla.

Bennett once told me that I was the only journalist who truly understood him.

Now maybe that was another of his mind games at the time - although I’ll happily cop the rap.

I’ve watched with interest over the years as a number of southern scribes have tried unsuccessfully to bring him down.

Sadly for them, after last Friday night’s grandstand performance, it’s clear there are no signs of Bennett softening, even in old age.


Wayne 'Ticker' Heming is a veteran rugby league correspondent and parochial Queenslander who has attended more than 100 State of Origin matches.