Bennett's reputation safe as Knight's struggle

A famous and successful coach said of Wayne Bennett many seasons ago that his success had to be put in context.

He said Bennett had the cream of players to work with, hadn’t had to rebuild a struggling club from scratch, and didn’t possess great technical skills.

Now Bennett has to build the struggling Newcastle Knights from scratch and has four years in which to do it, according to his contract.

As the Knights struggle, Bennett is facing questions and criticism for the first time in his career.

His now-assistant Rick Stone took virtually the same Newcastle to the finals last season and the Knights have gone backwards since.

Owner Nathan Tinkler expects instant results and is intolerant of failure. So goes the commentary.

Tinkler has had a revolving stable door of horse trainers, sacked the Newcastle soccer coach. Is the commentary fair?

Should Newcastle lose every remaining game this season and Bennett his contract, his place in the coaching pantheon would still be secure, such is his record.

And that famous coach’s assessment is not quite fair.

Go back 25 years.

Despite luring Mal Meninga to Canberra, the Raiders had struggled under Don Furner’s coaching until Bennett came south as his assistant.

The turnaround was almost immediate and Canberra made the 2007 grand final.

Bennett was then lured to Brisbane for the Broncos’ inaugural season and his long and premiership-laden stint as coach.

As a man who has always prided himself on his firm principles, Bennett long felt guilt over reneging on his Canberra contract.

It should also be remembered that Bennett took over Queensland for the 2001 State of Origin season — the series in which Allan Langer made his famous return from England — after NSW had humbled the Maroons in the previous seasons.

Bennett felt it his duty to restore Queensland honour.

They had been notably dishonoured in 2000 by NSW forward Bryan Fletcher’s hand-grenade celebration with the participation of his team-mates after a try during the Blues’ 56-16 win; a celebration which was an insult to their opponents and the game.

Honour was restored.

Then there was the season in which Bennett took Brisbane from last at the halfway mark to the finals, a feat Brian Smith lauded as one of the great coaching achievements.

And then there was Bennett’s presence as an assistant to Steve Kearney when New Zealand won the World Cup, beating Ricky Stuart’s Australia in the final.

So there are achievements aplenty in addition to Bennett just getting the best from the best players.

Presence? Bennett has always had it and cultivated it, and players have responded to it.

As his coaching idol Jack Gibson had presence.

Gibson’s feat in his first coaching season of taking virtually the same Easts who couldn’t win a game in 1966 to the semi-finals in 1967, won’t be repeated.

The legendary one was rugby league’s first great innovator but by the time Gibson finished, the game and other innovators were already passing him by.

Presence was no longer enough.

Bennett might say he’s in Newcastle for the long four-season haul, Tinkler permitting, and his reputation is secure.

But it would be tragic if he went the way of Gibson.

Bennett has always said he’d know the time when he no longer had something to offer.

It shouldn’t take the rest of his contract to know.

The rest of this season should provide an answer, and one hopes it’s a positive one.

There was irony in the two referees’ well-recognised stuff-ups in the Roosters v Broncos NRL match and it is this.

Roosters coach Brian Smith led the call for a two-referee system 20 years ago.

But what Smith envisioned is not the system now in place.

Smith envisioned a second referee just policing the then-five-and-now 10m and looking for incidents in back-play.

The main referee would concentrate on the ball and the game.

That’s one referee for 80 minutes, not two alternating duties.

That would have stopped the ‘‘Roosters ball’’-‘‘Broncos ball’’ farce that preceded the more farcical non-decision that led to a Broncos try.

Matt Cecchin was one of the two referees.

It would be a hard heart that wouldn’t feel sympathy for him.

Regarded as an also whistle-blower when Robert Finch was referees' boss, then a Bill Harrigan favourite, culminating in his getting the first State of Origin game, Cecchin is now nowhere.

It will be a cruel test of character , and as with Bennett, one hopes he passes it.

American swimming has always been envious of the way Australian swimmers are adored.

Dawn Fraser, Murray Rose, Jon Konrads and on and on. There’s been an endless supply of great swimmers and endless media coverage of them.

Something to do with the place of the water and the beach in the national psyche, no doubt.

By contrast, the only time American swimming gets mass media coverage is at Olympics time.

During the four-year Olympiad, virtually nothing.

And your average gold medallist gets a so-so reaction.

It takes the extraordinary ones, like a Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps, to engage the national imagination.

How does this pertain to Kenrick Monk and Nick D’Arcy, whose only crime was idiocy when they posted pictures of themselves on Facebook, with weapons in a US gun shop?

Well, there’s a clue for Yank swimmers there if they want to be recognised.

Since every man, woman, child, dog and cat has a gun in the United States, such poses wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.

They’d be as American as apple pie.

What swimmers could do would be to stage protests outside of gun shops, urging everyone to destroy their weapons and boycott Charlton Heston movie re-runs, in the land of the free where everyone has the right to bear arms.

This would get the headlines and prime-time coverage.

Of course, there would be the slight risk of collateral damage, like getting themselves shot.

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