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Bennett hailed the 'best in the business'

·5-min read

Depending on who you ask, Wayne Bennett is a master man manager, father figure, super-coach, life coach, the "best in the business" or an old "grumble bum".

He may be all of the above. They're just opinions.

Factually, the seven-times premiership-winning mentor is the most successful coach in Australian rugby league history.

And now the 71-year-old is two wins away from riding off into the sunset as the undisputed coaching GOAT - greatest of all time.

Fans of the late and great Jack Gibson or Melbourne marvel Craig Bellamy may beg to differ.

But if Bennett is able to plot South Sydney victories over Manly on Friday night and then either the Storm or Penrith in next week's title decider, the outgoing veteran will have accomplished a feat no coach in 113 years of ARL/NRL history has achieved.

Winning premierships with three different clubs.

"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 his six trophies at the Broncos, including the 1997 Super League crown, Bennett helped St George Illawarra break the Dragons' infamous 31-year premiership drought in 2010.

Throw in grand final defeats as co-coach of Canberra in 1987 and golden-point despair for Brisbane against North Queensland in 2015 and Bennett's teams have already featured in nine grand finals.

At representative level, the two-time Australian winger has coached Queensland to five State of Origin series wins, Australia to the 2004 Tri Nations title and England to the 2017 World Cup final.

Leading the so-called "worst Queensland team ever" to 2020 series glory over NSW came after Bennett's 17-year absence from the Origin cauldron.

"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."

Ben Hornby, captain of the Dragons' hoodoo-busting grand final-winning outfit 11 years ago, echoed Walters' sentiments, lauding Bennett's tactical nous as perhaps his most underrated coaching trait.

"Just how he builds relationships with his players. That's probably the biggest thing with Wayne," Hornby told AAP.

"But sometimes he gets a bit of a rap that that's all he can do.

"He's very smart. He knows exactly what's going on in the game tactically as well.

"He's more known for his man management but Wayne's as sharp as he ever was.

"I can't imagine how many phone calls he takes a day from probably former players, people he's coached, people he knows outside of football as well as journalists and all the other people.

"He continues to evolve."

Walters likened Bennett to a father figure for many of his young players, while Hornby hailed the teetotalling ex-policeman as a life coach as well as rugby league super-coach.

Rabbitohs forward Mark Nicholls reckons Bennett is simply "the best in the business".

"Most players who ever played for Wayne will say they called him when they've got things in their life that they need advice on," said Hornby, who followed Bennett to Redfern last year to serve as his assistant attack coach.

"He's good with that stuff and he's not one to really judge you if things aren't going your way. He's happy just to listen and give some advice so he brings that to the table as well."

Often accused of being grumpy, with one article attacking the "grumble bum" for his endless whining, Bennett is merely "what you see is what you get", according to Hornby.

"He calls a spade a spade. It's just who he is. He doesn't try to be anyone else. If he's not happy with something, he's going to tell you. If he is happy with something, he's going to tell you as well.

"I know there's a lot of mystique out there about Wayne but Wayne's just Wayne; a normal person."

Beneath the Clint Eastwood-lookalike's tough exterior even lies a sense of humour, apparently.

"He'll tell the odd joke. He doesn't mind lightening things up a little bit," Hornby said.

"He likes being around the boys and the boys having a good time at training.

"But at the end of the day, we're there to win games and there is a serious side to him as well."

To a man, Bennett's charges will say the grand campaigner's greatest strength is drawing the best from his players.

"He's always been a big supporter of his players and that gives players confidence," Walter said.

"Building relationships and understanding his players and what makes them tick and understanding that each player is different.

"The other thing he does is keep it very simple for everyone. He doesn't over-complicate what is a very simple game.

"It's a physical game but it's also very simple and one of his greatest strengths is getting the best out of his players without focusing too much on the opposition."

As evident in Souths' ambushing of the Panthers in week one of the finals without suspended superstar Latrell Mitchell.

"He's really honest and upfront and as a player that's what you want," said ageless playmaker Benji Marshall, who credits Bennett for his second and third career coming after being lured by the wily coach firstly to Brisbane then to the Rabbitohs this season aged 36.

"He talked me into it. I didn't come for the money, that's for sure.

"He talked me into the role and what role I was going to play and made me really excited about that.

"Obviously the opportunity of playing in a great side is too hard to turn down so this has been one of the most enjoyable years I've had.

"I just love the way he coaches."

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