As Wayne Bennett prepares to coach his 900th game this weekend at Magic Round, NRL.com takes a look inside Wayne's world by speaking to the players, coaches, officials and rugby league legends that know him best as part of an exclusive series.
In Part V, we look at Bennett's legacy as a mentor for NRL coaches and his role in the careers of Craig Bellamy, Jason Demetriou, Kristian Woolf and dozens of others who have worked or played under him before moving into coaching.
- Part I - Wayne Bennett: The Super Coach
- Part II - Wayne Bennett: The Father Figure
- Part III - Wayne Bennet: The Decision Maker
- Part IV - Wayne Bennett: The Internationalist
Wayne Bennett, The Coaching Mentor
Craig Bellamy is one of the game's greatest mentors, but the Storm guru almost fell into the role by accident and is among the coaches who are thankful to Wayne Bennett for his influence on their careers.
Bennett, who has coached 378 players, has also guided a long list of NRL coaches headed by Bellamy, Jason Demetriou, Kevin Walters, Anthony Griffin, Kristian Woolf, Stephen Kearney, Paul Green, Steve Price and Ivan Henjak.
He has also inspired many of his former players to join the coaching ranks, including:
- Adam Blair (Warriors)
- Sam Burgess (Rabbitohs)
- Nathan Fien (Dolphins)
- Ben Hornby (Rabbitohs)
- Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers)
- Mal Meninga (Kangaroos)
- Brett Morris (Roosters)
- Scott Prince (Broncos)
- Jamie Soward (Dragons)
- Ben Teo (Dolphins)
- Peter Wallace (Panthers)
- Dean Young (Cowboys)
Others include Danny Buderus, Laurie Daley, Michael Hancock, Mathew Head, Jason Hetherington, Justin Hodges, Dean Lance, Terry Matterson, Wes Naiqama, Brad Thorn, Ben Walker and Shane Walker.
Of those, Bellamy has been the most successful; steering Melbourne to nine grand final appearances since 2006, of which the club won six but later had the 2007 and 2009 titles stripped for salary cap breaches.
However, Bellamy was initially lured to Brisbane as a performance manager after Steve Nance left to take up a role with the Wallabies and he began helping Bennett at training as the super coach didn’t have any assistants at that time.
“My job wasn’t quite as busy during the season compared to before the season and, because I had coached at Canberra in the lower grades, I just did a little bit of stuff to give Wayne a hand,” Bellamy said.
“It was a great experience for me and it was a great club to be a part of, because of how many great people there were.
“I really enjoyed working with the players, like Gorden Tallis, Allan Langer, Shane Webcke, Brad Thorn and all those guys. They were really hard workers and great guys to work with, so I really enjoyed my time there.”
A shoulder injury limited Bellamy to six games in Bennett’s sole season at Canberra in 1987, and he spent most of his playing career under Don Furner snr and Tim Sheens, who has overseen the second most NRL games.
Bellamy (533 – Melbourne) is fourth behind Brian Smith (601 – Illawarra, St George, Parramatta, Newcastle, Sydney Roosters), Sheens (677 – Canberra, North Queensland, Wests Tigers) and Bennett (899 – Brisbane, St George Illawarra, Newcastle, South Sydney, Broncos, Dolphins).
“To do what he has done is remarkable,” Bellamy said. “Wayne is a long way from the next closest and I think that I’ve been in this for a long time, but I am only about halfway to what he has done.
He has coached a lot of great players and I am sure he left a mark on all of them.
“He has got a great love for the game and to have that sort of passion for the game, and to continue to have that passion for so long, is quite remarkable. I am really grateful that I had those five years with Wayne.
"I learned a lot at Canberra too under Tim, and at that time Wayne and Tim were probably considered the yard stick of coaches, but the one thing I found was how different they were in what they coached, and how they coached.”
While Sheens was known for his tactical and training innovations, Bennett’s strengths have always been man-management and his relationships with players.
Bellamy is also renowned for his ability to get the best out of his players in his 21 seasons in charge of the Storm.
“You can’t just model yourself on someone but there were a lot of things I learned off Tim and a lot of things I learned off Wayne that I still believe in,” Bellamy said.
“Probably at that time I just thought coaching was coaching and you coach footy. Wayne had a little bit of a different way of going about that and managing people.
“It wasn’t just about footy, and I learned a bit off him about how he managed people and how he got on with people and how he encouraged people. He did that in a little bit of a different way to how I had seen it before.
I took the things that I thought were important, from the way I talk to people and handle people, and how I thought about the game.
“I am just really grateful, and I consider myself so fortunate to have spent that time working with Wayne. It was a great learning experience for me. I don’t think I really could have had a better education and I’ve got Wayne and Tim to thank for that.”
Woolf is the latest coach to work under Bennett as part of a succession plan for him to take charge of the Dolphins in 2025, similar to his handover to Jason Demetriou at Souths last year.
Despite having taken St Helens to three consecutive Super League premierships and being the man behind Tonga’s rise to become an international powerhouse since 2017, Woolf said he was still learning from Bennett.
“I sit beside him at work every day, and I certainly run plenty of things by him, so I lean on him with his thoughts and his experience,” Woolf said.
“He is the most successful coach of this recent era so there is always plenty to learn off blokes like Wayne.
He has got a great ability in terms of the messages that he gives, and he is always on point with that - with his timing but also the delivery.
“He has got a great ability to keep players and staff really accountable, and he drives a high standard.
"If you put all of those things together you can certainly see why he has had the success that he has had and why he is so revered as a coach.”
Kearney, who began his coaching career under Bellamy in 2006 before leaving to coach Parramatta in 2011 and 2012 and later had charge of the Warriors for four seasons from 2017, also worked with Bennett at NRL and Test level.
The pair combined to guide New Zealand to victory at the 2008 World Cup, and Kearney was an assistant to Bennett at the Broncos in 2015 and 2016 before taking on the Warriors job.
He said Bennett knew what worked and had not changed his coaching principles or methods during his 35 seasons at the helm of NRL clubs and representative teams.
“Every coach is different with the way they go about things, and Wayne’s strength is his feel for the situation,” Kearney said.
“I remember when we were in the World Cup, he would watch the game and after we had played he would bring me in this piece of paper with all the times on it from the video.
“That was in 2008, and at that time with Bellyache [at the Storm] we were cutting footage like you wouldn’t believe, and Wayne is still writing it all down on a piece of paper.
“But the point I am making is that not a great deal has changed with him or needed to change. His strength is his sense for the situation and over the course of those 900 games that is a pretty special quality to have.
“I have talked to Woolfy about how he has been going and he has been singing nothing but praises about the way Wayne goes about it, so it is a pretty special effort for him to still be having that impact.”
Part VI of Inside Wayne's World: By The Numbers is released on Saturday.