Win, lose or golden point, Wayne Bennett will make history on Sunday.
He will lay claim to being the greatest rugby league coach in history â and even earn the right to stand alongside the greatest in any team sport.
It is a huge call to make, given that in international terms rugby league is a minor sport at best. Ask a UK Premier League supporter who Wayne Bennett is, and you will no doubt get a blank look in reply.
Ask a US Major League Baseball, NFL or NBA fan what rugby league is, and chances are the response will be the same.
South Sydney Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett will take a record fourth different team to the competition’s decider this Sunday. Pictured:Â Bennett celebrates with his team after winning Game 3 of the 2020 State of Origin series at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Should the Rabbitohs win, the victory will be Bennett’s eighth title from 10 grand finals. At 71 years of age, he will also be the oldest coach to ever lift the trophy
Bennett has coached a record 885 club games for 553 wins, 14 draws and 314 losses, a win-loss ratio of 62.6 percent
But in statistical terms alone there is no denying that what Bennett has achieved within the confines of his sport is worthy of comparison with any coach of any code â regardless of how many people play it or watch it.
When his South Sydney Rabbitohs run onto Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium to take on the Penrith Panthers, he will become the first rugby league coach to ever take four different clubs to the grand final.
Should the Rabbitohs finish on top, he will become the first coach to win premierships with three different clubs.
It will be his eighth title from ten grand finals â both records â and, at 71 years of age, he will be the oldest coach to ever lift the trophy.
In recent years there were those who said that Bennett had lost his touch, that he was too old and that the game had passed him by.
What he has achieved at South Sydney in the three years since he was sacked by Brisbane Broncos officials who felt their club’s future lay in the hands of a younger man has well and truly proven his detractors wrong.
He has shown that the old fox still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve and cemented his reputation as the greatest rugby league coach who has ever lived.
Bennett addresses the Brisbane Broncos faithful after the club beat the Melbourne Storm in the 2006 NRL Grand Final. He won six premiership titles with the Broncos (including the SuperLeague title in 1997 when the game split into two competitions)Â Â
Bennett left the Broncos for the George-Illawarra Dragons, bringing the club success at the 2010 Grand Final
Bennett could bring the Bunnies its 22 premiership on the weekend. The club last won the competition in 2014
There have been plenty who have been given that title over the years, most notably the late Jack Gibson, who stopped coaching in 1987, and Craig Bellamy, current coach of the Melbourne Storm, but Bennett’s performance this season has taken him well ahead of them.
Those with a fondness for history would say that Arthur ‘Pony’ Halloway’s eight premierships between 1916 and 1945 still have him ahead of Bennett, but four of those premierships were ‘first-past-the-post’ without a grand final.
On the numbers alone, no-one can come close to Bennett.
At club level he has coached a record 885 games (over 200 more than second-placed Tim Sheens) for 553 wins, 14 draws and 314 losses, a win-loss ratio of 62.6 percent.
He took the Raiders to the 1987 grand final that they lost to Manly, before winning titles with the Broncos in 1992, ’93, ’97 (Super League), ’98, 2000 and 2006.
In 2010, during a three-year stint with St George-Illawarra, he took the Dragons to their first premiership title as a joint venture and, five years later back at the Broncos, his team lost the grand final in extra-time to the Cowboys after being ahead with one second remaining.
He has coached Queensland to six State of Origin series wins between 1987 and 2020 and in 37 matches in charge of Australia, England and Great Britain, has recorded 24 wins for a winning percentage of 64.9 percent.
And that, in any game, is one heck of a record â so how does it rate outside the boundaries of rugby league?
Coach Wayne Bennett and captain Darren Lockyer (right) celebrate after the club’s win in the 2006 Grand Final
Bennett celebrates with Dragons players Jamie Soward (left) and Dean Young (right) after the 2010 Grand Final victory
Australian Rules football has two coaches who stand above the rest in statistical terms: Norm Smith and Jock McHale.
Voted coach of the AFL Team of the Century, Melbourne legend Smith was a strict disciplinarian who took the Demons to the top of the game in the mid-1950s and early 1960s, winning five premierships from seven consecutive Grand Finals from 1955 before adding a sixth flag in 1964.
Statistically, Collingwood’s McHale and Bennett are neck and neck. McHale coached for 38 seasons and 714 games for eight premierships and 27 finals series. Bennett has coached for 34 years so far and taken his teams to the finals on 28 occasions. McHale is slightly ahead in winning percentage of 65 per cent to 62.6 percent, although Bennett has coached 171 more games.
Comparing Bennett to some of the greatest coaches of the world’s biggest sports is not quite as simple.
Major League Baseball fans, for instance, would point out that their teams play 162 regular season games compared to the NRL’s 24, and the role of an MLB manager is far different to that of a rugby league coach.
But while not as hands-on, it is a job that requires great tactical and man-management skills.
Casey Stengel, whose New York Yankees won 10 pennants and seven World Series titles between 1949 and 1960, had all that and more â including a talent for quotable quotes, such as ‘All right, everyone line up alphabetically according to height.’
Stengel’s career winning percentage over 3,747 games of just above 50 per cent was not as good as some other great managers, including fellow seven-time World Series winner Joe McCarthy, but his success during a more competitive period sees him rated number one in his field.
Mention of McCarthy, who managed the Yankees spanning an era when his line-up included the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, raises the question of how much the talent of the playing roster affects the success of the coach.
NBA coach Phil Jackson (centre) won a record 11 NBA championships â six with the Chicago Bulls and five with the LA Lakers
Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi is carried from the field after his team defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the 1966 NFL Championship
Bill Belichick coached the New England Patriots to six Super Bowl wins in the NFL
That was certainly the case with Phil Jackson, the man regarded as professional basketball’s greatest coach.
Jackson won a record 11 NBA championships â six with the Chicago Bulls and five with the LA Lakers. Given his rosters at the two franchises included the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neill and Kobe Bryant, it would be easy to downplay his involvement to one of making sure the players got to the team bus on time.
Anyone who has seen the Netflix series ‘The Last Dance’ will know that is far from the case. Jackson was a brilliant tactician and an even better psychologist whose use of Eastern philosophies and Native American spiritual practices earned him the nickname ‘Zen Master’.
When it comes to American Football, two names stand out. Which is the greatest? That depends on whether you judge on titles or respect.
If it is the former, you can’t go past Bill Belichick who has coached the New England Patriots to six Super Bowl wins, although his critics would point out the influence of his quarterback Tom Brady.
Brady played in all of Belichick’s Super Bowl-winning teams. When he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, the Patriots failed to make the play-offs for the first time in 18 years. The Buccaneers won the Super Bowl with Brady named MVP.
Arguably the most respected NFL coach is the one whose name appears on the Super Bowl Trophy, Vince Lombardi.
The Green Bay Packers that Lombardi took over in 1959 hadn’t achieved a winning season for 12 years. Within two seasons they were in the NFL Championship game and by 1968 they had won five, including the last three in a row. When the NFL introduced the Super Bowl in 1966, Lombardi’s Packers beat the hotly favoured Kansas City Chiefs 33-14. A year later they won Super Bowl II 33-14 over the Oakland Raiders.
When Lombardi died of cancer in 1970 aged 57, he held the highest-ever play-off winning percentage of 90 percent. No-one has come close since.
To which the millions of fanatical supporters of football â the ‘World Game’ â would say, ‘so what?’
To them, there is only one real sport and given it is played by an estimated 250million players in over 200 countries, it is no surprise that it has produced a long list of coaching greats including the influential Dutchman Rinus Michels, Liverpool’s Bob Paisley â who was the first manager to win three European Cups â and more recently, Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola.
Sir Alex Ferguson won 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles, in a 26-year reign as manager of Manchester United
Casey Stengel, who guided the New York Yankees to 10 pennants and seven World Series titles between 1949 and 1960
But one stands alone: Manchester United colossus, Sir Alex Ferguson.
Taking over at Man U in 1986, after great success with Aberdeen in his native Scotland, Ferguson turned the middling Red Devils into the most powerful club in Europe.
Over his 26-year reign, the club won 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League titles. A highlight was the 1998-99 season in which United won the treble of League, FA Cup and Champions League titles spearheaded by the so-called ‘Class of ’92’ â David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and brothers Gary and Phil Neville.
For Wayne Bennett to even be mentioned in the same breath as Sir Alex â or the others named â is a tribute to his many talents, because as any coach will tell you, there is a lot more to the job than simply keeping a team fit and putting together a good game plan.
A coach must be an expert tactician, manager, psychologist and, in order to survive the backroom politics, a survivor.
As the great Casey Stengel put it: ‘The secret of successful managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the four guys who haven’t made up their minds’.