'Father Time has got the better of Bennett'
Some old men are old men because they grow old and some old men are old men because they got old.
Wayne Bennett, the great warrior of the coaching scene, fell into the second category during the week.
It brings to an end a wonderful stint for Bennett. He was once the coach other coaches looked towards. The one always in control, who found power in silence.
Kayo is your ticket to the 2020 NRL Telstra Premiership. Watch every game Live & On-Demand with no-ad breaks during play. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
Now, Bennett, 70, can't stay quiet even when he should. The yearly Broncos' game is an opportunity for an old man who sees the world in old ways to shake his fist at passing clouds.
Nobody would have thought it could get worse like it did this week when, through his own stupidity, Bennett began the week moaning about old gripes but then undid himself bad enough that he was forced to watch Friday night's game in his lounge room instead of the coach's box.
His spluttering explanation for his covid breach was confused, and, worrying for a game that has spent more than three decades jotting down the wisdom of Wayne.
Bennett was never good at saying sorry, in any aspect of life. His silence was an endorsement for that, considered a strength.
It is up to the NRL to pick through the inconsistencies in Bennett's skinny explanation and to determine what must be done to the game's most experienced coach.
How long South Sydney can persist with a coach who spends the greatest amount of energy keeping his players happy, while leaving the real coaching to assistant Jason Demetriou, will soon become a matter for the Rabbitohs, too.
Those who care about Bennett must be concerned. Was he deliberately vague, or misleading, or is he becoming absent minded?
He said on Thursday he didn't know the NRL's strict covid rules: "We're totally confused about what we can and can't do."
But, when challenged, and it looked like his capabilities were being questioned, he suddenly did: "I'm confident I do know the rules."
It was almost pitiful.
"The rules have changed that many times, I didn't think I was breaking any rules yesterday," he said.
It seems absurd to have to remind him that he is part of Operation Apollo, the committee charged with implementing the protocols to get the game going again.
Despite being part of Operation Apollo, and having to admit his understanding of his breach, Bennett tried lessening his offence by claiming that despite being inside a busy inner west restaurant, it wasn't really that busy at all.
"There wasn't many there at all, actually," he said.
"I was isolated from everybody."
Finally, he got indignant.,
"I'm allowed to eat, aren't I?"
Yes, at home like everybody else in the bubble.
In his indignation, Bennett did not reveal that for at least part of his lunch a third person, a man, joined him at the table.
Two NRL identities were inside the restaurant at the time. He knows of one who sat not too far away from him.
The other believes he went unseen yet both were shocked to see Bennett at a table.
They knew the rules for NRL coaches in the bubble, the same as the two NSW covid safety inspectors inside the restaurant knew the rules as they expressed surprise that Bennett was in the restaurant.
What the NRL has not properly investigated is Bennett's recent history.
He has admitted to being out "one or two other times" - a vague answer that has the safety net that, if pictures now emerge of Bennett out during lockdown, then that must have been the one or two times.
Vague and confused.
The NRL's weak response so far has a consequence nobody at headquarters seems prepared to accept.
The Rabbitohs players were not forced to undergo covid tests before Friday night's game and Bennett was ordered into a 14-day quarantine.
This was decided given that, even if Bennett was infected at the restaurant, he would have been in a non-infectious stage when he trained the Rabbitiohs Thursday morning.
But what if those "one or two times" of fine dining was a week ago? A fortnight ago?
Nobody seems willing to ask.
Bennett, battling for relevance for the first time in his career, is certainly in no mood to volunteer it.
His selective confusion has no grounds.
Every club has a covid specialist hired at some cost by the NRL to educate and monitor those in the bubble. The NRL knows the tens of millions of dollars of the broadcast deal are at stake.
The covid officers have a cheat sheet to briefly and clearly tell those inside the bubble what they can and cannot do.
One heading says: "Stay Home". And underneath it says "You must stay home unless doing essential household tasks, or approved activities."
Directly below that message it gets more pointed: "No Restaurants & Cafes", the note underneath saying "You cannot go to a cafe, restaurant or recreational activity at this time."
One of Bennett's great strengths for which he has always received large praise for was that he was always considered a master at managing the media.
But this week he was lost and confused.
A simple sorry would have fixed it all but he is incapable of that.
Bennett spent much of the week privately asking some league writers why they had not followed up the Kotoni Staggs sextape scandal.
For some the tape was just a rumour but by Tuesday it appeared.
He complained about the Cody Walker tape, and his two-week suspension, about Latrell Mitchell's penalty for breaching covid rules, and he challenged his media men by demanding consistency.
There was a time when such a complaint by Bennett would have come chiselled in stone.
When consistency was one of the mainstays of his life.
Now, they disappear like the clouds he shakes his fist at, an old man faded and vague and irrelevant.
* * * * *
PRIVATE equity firms get involved in businesses to make money.
They generally get involved with companies under financial stress whose bargaining power is limited and the contracts contain a whole lot of fine print, mostly to ensure they never do their own money.
Now a private equity firm in England wants to buy 20 per cent of the NRL with promises to turn the game into rivers of gold.
Something similar happened eight years ago when incoming commissioner John Grant, who made millions during the dotcom boom, took over stewardship of the game and told the club bosses he and his business people were going to show the clubs how to make money.
"This'll be interesting," a few club bosses thought.
The game has been living season by season for years and realised it was not as easy as some guessed but, somehow, the game is now being told again some big brains can show the NRL how to make money.
The private equity company has even promised the clubs $20 million each, which got their interest, and which the rest of us know will all be wasted in a few years as they splurge on extra physios and off-season camps, none of which turns one dollar into two dollars.
Yet the NRL is asking us to trust some suits in England, who have no understanding of the game, little knowledge of its hurdles, but suggest they have somehow discovered the secret that 112 years of league administration has missed?
Or is the truth that once the private equity firm realises the return won't be what they foreshadowed they will then find other areas of the game, like grassroots, to strip money from in order to get the return on their investment they signed up for?
I don't have a big brain like those guys, but you can leave me out of that.
Originally published as Kent: Father Time has got the better of Bennett