Monday Buzz: Age-old problem for one-off Bennett
When does an NRL coach reach his use-by date?
Wayne Bennett turned 70 last month and is now the oldest coach in the history of the game.
The seven-time premiership winner was in Perth for the Nines but interestingly handed over the tournament coaching responsibilities to his highly regarded assistant, Jason Demetriou.
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Bennett's contract with the Rabbitohs runs out at the end of next season.
His record since winning the 2010 grand final with St George Illawarra is not great.
Once an untouchable figure in the game, he has been sacked from his past two jobs, at the Brisbane Broncos and more recently England after four straight losses, including a highly embarrassing defeat to PNG.
Before that he walked out mid-contract and left the Newcastle Knights in a diabolical state that led to three straight wooden spoons in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Bennett's future at South Sydney is potentially a big story this season. He did a good job last year but didn't improve on what Anthony Seibold did the previous season when he was named Dally M coach of the year.
It's fair to say Seibold left Souths in better condition than Bennett left the Broncos.
Other great NRL coaches have been long retired and put their feet up by 70.
The great Jack Gibson and Warren Ryan quit at 58. Gus Gould finished at the Roosters at 41, although he coached Origin until he was 45. Timmy Sheens went until 61 and Johnny Lang 60.
Storm supercoach Craig Bellamy is still going at 60 but told me at the Dally Ms last year that this season could be his last.
So Bennett is certainly a one-off in rugby league, although in the UK Premier League the greatest manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson, didn't retire at Manchester United until 71.
There is no question Bennett still has unwavering support from his players at Redfern.
The dressing room TV footage of the celebrations after Souths beat his old club, the Broncos and Seibold last year, showed the love and admiration the players have for him.
However, there was talk of English players questioning his coaching methods after four straight losses, twice to New Zealand, then Tonga and PNG.
Canberra's Englishmen, who had played so magnificently during the finals, suddenly looked average.
It came as no surprise when the Poms recently sacked him.
There have been other unusual issues over the past couple of years.
Players privately say he can forget names and even some of their moves.
They say he even fell asleep in a Broncos video session in 2018.
There have also been the recruitment issues, including point-blank denials and deliberately misleading comments about the signings of James Roberts and Latrell Mitchell.
To misinform fans is not a good move.
Your columnist spoke to recently retired captain Sam Burgess in Perth about Bennett's future and the right time for him to retire.
"No one will be telling him," Burgess said. "He'll decide when the time's right.
"He's still a very driven person who has stood the test of time and the fundamentals of the game haven't changed all that much. If he thinks he can do the job, he'll keep going."
Champion hooker Damien Cook said Bennett was showing no signs of slowing down.
"Wayne just genuinely loves being around the boys," he said.
"He loves coming to work every day.
"Plus he's got great balance on the coaching staff with Jason Demetriou, Ben Hornby, Sutto (John Sutton), GI (Greg Inglis) and Sam Burgess all helping out."
The talk at Souths is that Bennett will see out his coaching contract until the end of 2021, the same time head of football Shane Richardson comes off contract.
Bennett would take Richardson's job in a role similar to what Gould did at Penrith and Demetriou would become the Rabbitohs' head coach.
The timing would be perfect because no one wants to see an all-time legend outstay his welcome.
COACHES WHO TOOK TIME TO CALL IT QUITS
* Wayne Bennett (South Sydney) Still coaching. Age: 70 years, 73 days (by round one)
* Arthur Hennessy (South Sydney) Final match: Round 14, 1946. Age: 69 years, 327 days
* Ray Norman (Manly) Final match: Round 18, 1954. Age: 65 years, 264 days
* Arthur 'Pony' Halloway (Canterbury) Final match: Round 18, 1948. Age: 63 years, 35 days
* Tim Sheens (Wests Tigers) Final match: Round 26, 2012. Age: 61 years, 307 days
* John Lang (South Sydney) Final match: Round 26, 2011. Age: 60 years, 299 days
* Craig Bellamy (Melbourne) Still coaching. Age: 60 years, 164 days
* Peter Sharp (Cronulla) Final match: Round 16, 2014. Age: 59 years, 346 days
* Ron Willey (Penrith) Final match: Minor semi-final 1989. Age: 59 years, 293 days
* Des Hasler (Manly) Still coaching: Age: 59 years, 28 days
* Warren Ryan (Newcastle) Final match: Preliminary final 2000. Age: 58 years, 317 days
* Jack Gibson (Cronulla) Final match: Round 26, 1987. Age: 58 years, 184 days
* Brian Smith (Sydney Roosters) Final match: Round 26, 2012. Age: 58 years, 171 days
* Phil Gould (Sydney Roosters) retired in 1999 at 41
* Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United) retired in 2013 age 71