Wayne Bennett is back on top ahead of Brisbane battle – and he’ll be happy to let the Souths chatter continue


Life’s easy when you’re on top of the pile. Just ask Wayne Bennett.

The great man will love that he is still wanted by one of the biggest names in the game at South Sydney, but what will give him even more pleasure is sitting on top of the NRL ladder, as his Dolphins side currently do ahead of their first meeting with the big brother Broncos this Friday night at Suncorp Stadium.

Bennett loves to confound critics, which is now well into doing for a second time in succession with the Phins, and he loves to stick it up those who have wronged him, which is an opportunity he’ll get on Friday night.

He also loves South Sydney, as evidenced by how badly he took their defeat in the 2021 Grand Final, and how he admitted how much he miss the playing group at the start of 2022, when they began life without him, and with Jason Demetriou.

The narrative of Bennett waltzing back in at Redfern – well, Maroubra, as they’ve moved in his absence – is growing louder and louder with every passing defeat for Souths and every victory for his new side.

It’s not like Bennett really needs to win anymore, for sure. His reputation was bulletproof before taking on the Redcliffe gig, and that he has achieved so much in his two years with the expansion side has only burnished it further.

Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett talks to his players during training. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The narrative of Uncle Wayne once again on top while his former protégé languishes at the bottom is one that will run and run, the intricacies of a Bennett return are a lot more complex than what they first seem.

Wind back to the start of 2022 and few thought Demetriou wasn’t a good choice, especially considering the apprenticeship he had done and the responsibility he held within the Bennett-led Souths success.

The supercoach has long since stopped taking full tactical control with JD taking that part of the job at the Bunnies and Kristian Woolf doing it at Redcliffe with the intention that he take over at the end of this year when the old bloke’s contract is up.

Bennett does all the man management, team selection and public-facing parts – and holds ultimate responsibility – but Demetriou then and Woolf now were the modern, up-to-date guys tasked with communicating strategy and insights to the playing group.

There’s nothing wrong with this and by all accounts it worked.

Bennett got to have his cake and eat it, the two assistants got the ultimate apprenticeship and the two respective clubs got great results from what was, on the face of it, a slightly unusual arrangement.

It’s hard to predict what Woolf will do when he gets control of the Dolphins next year, but we can immediately see what JD did, which, on the field at least, was change very little.

He didn’t need to because the tactics before he was head coach were his anyway.

The 2024 comparison between Bennett’s fortunes and that of his former assistants is stark – one is top, one is bottom – but there are mitigating factors everywhere.

Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Souths are 1-4, but the four are the Broncos, Warriors, Sharks and Manly: three finals teams from last year and one of the fastest improving teams of this year.

Redcliffe are 3-1, but have played no teams who made the 8 in 2024 and have played three of last year’s bottom four, whom they have beaten.

As bad as Souths have been, it’s near impossible to think that Demetriou would be in danger of losing his job had the fixture lists been reversed.

The Dolphins have had an early rounds bye and are yet to leave Queensland – they won’t play in NSW until Round 15 and just three times in Sydney all year, just like they did last year.

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The Titans, for example, are in Sydney ten times in the same two year period and the Cowboys a massive 14 times.

None of this is their fault, of course, and a comparison between Souths and the Dolphins is a little futile, but it does speak to the vastly differing workloads and challenges that Bennett currently faces compared to what he did – and would again – at South Sydney.

Since the Bunnies were top of the table in Round 11 last year, their record is a pathetic 5-14, but they have played at Accor Stadium just six times in those 19 games.

The expectations are totally different, too.

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow pushes away the defence. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Souths fans think they should win pretty much every game, and rightly so: they have Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, Cam Murray, Damien Cook and a host of other rep stars. On paper, it’s an elite roster to challenge for Premierships.

Even when plenty of those rep stars are out – Campbell Graham, Jai Arrow, Alex Johnston and now Mitchell to name just four – the expectation is high.

Dolphins fans would like their team to do well, but are aware that they are in year two of a long project and aren’t going to win a Premiership any time soon.

They also have injuries, but fans know that they have less depth and adjust what they think is possible accordingly.

PlayUp have the Dolphins at $3.30 to beat Brisbane, for example, which is actually slightly better odds than you can get on Souths to beat the Sharks on Saturday night, with the home side going at $3.35.

Go ask a Souths fan if they have the same expectations of their team’s performance as that of a Dolphins fan. They’ll be light years apart.

Bennett knows this game far too well, and knows the best thing to do to at the moment – both for Demetriou and for himself – is to say absolutely nothing.

“I have no idea what is going on at Souths so I don’t really want to make any comment on something I don’t know anything about,” he said in his pre-match media duties.

“I am here until the end of the season and I have made no decisions about going anywhere or doing anything so we will wait and see.

“Everyone is having an opinion on it. My opinion is the one that matters but I’m not sharing it with anyone, so keep guessing guys. Don’t try and predict the future. That’s the only tip I’m giving you.

“I’ll see what I want to do and what’s happening in my life. I could still be here next year. Who knows?”

It’s polite, it’s textbook, it’s diplomatic.

It’s also perfect for a man who might well want to take over at South Sydney, and who knows his stock is only rising week on week.

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