Master Bennett eyes historic coaching feat

Wayne Bennett is just one victory away from winning premierships with three different NRL clubs.
Wayne Bennett is just one victory away from winning premierships with three different NRL clubs.

He's one win away from becoming rugby league's undisputed coaching GOAT - better than Bellamy, greater than Gibson - but 71-year-old Wayne Bennett says he's not done yet.

Off contract after South Sydney's grand final against Penrith next week, Bennett is being hotly pursued by Brisbane's three expansion clubs - the Jets, Firehawks and Dolphins.

And he's refusing to rule out batting on even if he could potentially ride off into the sunset as, statistically at least, the most successful coach in ARL/NRL history.

If he can plot another Rabbitohs victory over the Panthers on Sunday week, as he did a fortnight ago, Bennett will have accomplished a feat no coach has achieved in 113 years: winning premierships with three different clubs.

Early 1900s legend Arthur Halloway coached Balmain and Eastern Suburbs to eight premierships and should be considered an Immortal having also snared seven titles as a player or captain-coach.

The late and great Jack Gibson won five premierships with the Roosters and Parramatta, while Tim Sheens nabbed three in total with Canberra and Wests Tigers.

Chris Anderson, with Canterbury and Melbourne, Phil Gould (Canterbury and Penrith) and Jim Craig (Western Suburbs and Canterbury) are the only other coaches to take two different clubs to titles.

But now Bennett is entering his 10th grand-final week with a fourth different club, the first man to do so.

"He's definitely got the Midas touch, that's for sure," Kevin Walters, a five-times grand-final winner under Bennett at Brisbane, told AAP.

In addition to winning six competitions at the Broncos, including the 1997 Super League crown, Bennett helped St George Illawarra break the Dragons' infamous 31-year premiership drought in 2010.

The wily veteran also co-coached Canberra to the 1987 premiership decider and Brisbane to a golden-point grand-final loss to North Queensland in 2015.

Throw in five State of Origin series wins with Queensland, the most recent in 2020 after a 17-year hiatus from the interstate representative arena, and Bennett has a CV like no other.

"He's stayed so relevant," Walters said.

"So while he might be a little bit older than most of the other coaches, he's stayed with the times, stayed in touch."

Yet even eight titles might not be enough for Bennett, who won't be strong-armed into retirement.

"I will determine when I finish. No-one will determine it for me," he said after Souths' 36-16 preliminary final dispatch of Manly.

"Nothing has changed for me. If I want to coach, I will keep coaching and make a contribution.

"I learnt as a young coach about when you should or shouldn't retire. I worked with a coach that didn't have the ambition anymore and the passion for it, but I'm not at that stage."

Bennett insisted he remained as driven to coach as he was when he first started almost half a century ago in the Brisbane competition.

"I am still motivated," he said.

"I am motivated by the things that I did as a 23-year-old when I decided to coach a football team because we didn't have a coach.

"I was very busy - I was a young police officer, I was playing rugby league in Brisbane and about to get married. A lot of things were going on.

"I had a big decision to make. The reasons I coached then were the same reasons I coached today. When they change, then I won't coach anymore."

COACHES TO HAVE WON PREMIERSHIPS WITH AT LEAST TWO DIFFERENT ARL/NRL CLUBS:

2: Arthur Halloway (Balmain 1916, 1917, 1919, 1920; Eastern Suburbs 1935, 1936, 1937, 1945) - 8 premierships

2: Wayne Bennett (Brisbane 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2006; St George Illawarra 2010) - 7 premierships

2: Jack Gibson (Eastern Suburbs 1974, 1975; Parramatta 1981, 1982, 1983) - 5 premierships

2: Tim Sheens (Canberra 1990, 1991; Wests Tigers 2005) - 3 premierships

2: Chris Anderson (Canterbury 1995; Melbourne 1999) - 2 premierships

2: Phil Gould (Canterbury 1988; Penrith 1991) - 2 premierships

2: Jim Craig (Western Suburbs 1930; Canterbury 1938)

Australian Associated Press