Where Bennett’s glory road began
Article from Men of League Foundation Magazine – Issue 60 – September 2015
It is 30 years since Wayne Bennett won his first premiership as a coach – the one that is forgotten in the context of his seven subsequent titles in the ‘national’ competition, but the one that was the making of him as a future coaching guru. By Steve Ricketts.
Wayne Bennett is often mentioned in the media as a “seven times premiership winning icon”, but it was his first ‘unheralded’ title which was the making of him as a coach.
Seven years before he won the first of his seven ARL/NRL premierships (six with the Broncos and one at the Dragons) Bennett had guided Souths’ Magpies to a Brisbane title with a shock 10-8 win over hot-shots, Wynnum-Manly Seagulls in a Lang Park grand final epic played in front of a crowd of 31,000.
The previous year Wynnum-Manly had thrashed Souths 42-8 in the decider, with the same two coaches at the helm – Bennett and Des Morris (Wynnum).
It was the biggest defeat in Brisbane grand final history, and forced Bennett into much soul searching in the off-season.
“I’ve learnt a lot of lessons in the past 12 months,” Bennett said after the ’85 triumph. “There is no sense getting beaten like we did if you don’t learn from it.”
Mal Meninga battled a knee injury to play in 1985, after carrying a rib injury for much of the ’84 grand final. The ’85 decider was Meninga’s last game for the Magpies, with the Test centre joining Canberra Raiders the following season.
“He’ll be remembered as a superstar,” predicted Bennett, who also found his way to the national capital – in 1987. “It took a lot of courage for him to play today, and he needed a few needles so he could get out there.”
Meninga would go on to captain the Raiders, but in ’85 Souths skipper was veteran lock Norm Carr who played 13 times for Queensland between 1976 and 1982, including three State of Origin matches.
‘Big Mal’ had played for St Helens in England in between Australian seasons in 1984-85, and did not return to Brisbane until May, with Carr retaining the captaincy handed to him by Bennett in the pre-season.
Carr was one of several key signings by Bennett, who acknowledged that the pack in particular needed strengthening.
In addition to Carr (Brisbane Wests), the Magpies signed former Parramatta premiership forward Chris Phelan (Oldham in England) and John Elias (South Sydney). Another key recruit was tough halfback Wayne Cullen from the Newcastle competition. Hooker Eddie Muller was the only survivor from the ’84 pack to play in the ’85 triumph.
Souths earned victory through a gritty defensive play against a Wynnum side which included current or future internationals Wally Lewis, Gene Miles, Colin Scott, Greg Dowling and Gary Coyne as well as Queensland Origin reps Terry Butler and brothers Ian and Brett French. Future Test lock,Bob Lindner, who had defected from Souths in the off-season, was unavailable through injury.
The Magpies current or future internationals were Meninga, Gary Belcher and Peter Jackson, while Carr and Phelan had played Origin, and second-rower Scott Tronc would go on to play for Queensland. Muller played for the Maroons against New Zealand in ’84.
Souths led 10-2 at half-time with Carr showing enormous strength to score near the posts after a bust by man of the match Elias.
The Magpies defence did not crack until the 68th minute when replacement Wynnum forward Craig Adams scored a strong try.
After the match Bennett reflected on a round three 12-0 win over a Redcliffe outfit boasting representative stars John Ribot, Greg Conescu, Bryan Niebling, Mitch Brennan, Dave Trewhella, Shane Bernardin and Trevor Benson.
“Normie Carr came into the dressing rooms after that match, took off his jersey and looked around at his exhausted teammates before saying ‘We’ve really got a football team here’,” Bennett said.
“Winning the grand final means a great deal to me because I have had my share of knockers within the media and from a few people outside the media. I have never been a loser and it just annoys me I had to win a premiership to prove I’m not a loser.”
Bennett had built a club with great depth, the Magpies winning the third grade and under-21 grand finals, while the reserve grade went down 22-16 to Past Brothers, Bennett’s former club. Former Wallaby Tony D’Arcy played reserve grade for Souths.
In 1986 Bennett became Queensland coaching director and took over the State of Origin reins from Des Morris. But Bennett’s hunger for the challenge of week-to-week club coaching was too strong, and he became Don Furner’s right hand man at Canberra in ’87, before returning to Brisbane to coach the Broncos in 1988, the year the BRL premiership took a back seat to the new ‘national’ competition.
1985 Grand Final teams:
SOUTHS: Gary Belcher; Ken Gittens, Peter Jackson, Mal Meninga, Paul Wallace; Gary French, Wayne Cullen; Norm Carr (c), John Elias, Scott Tronc, Chris Phelan, Eddie Muller, Mark Meskell.
WYNNUM-MANLY: Colin Scott; Terry Butler, Brett French, Gene Miles, Warren Green; Wally Lewis, Peter Dawes; Craig Farrugia, Tony Jemmott, Ian French, Greg Dowling, David Green (c), Gary Coyne.
Souths 10 (Norm Carr try; Gary French 3 goals) def. Wynnum-Manly 8 (Craig Adams try; Warren Green 2 goals). Referee: David Manson.