Why there is life after Wayne Bennett for the Dolphins

Joel Gould |

Wayne Bennett is a hard act to follow but the Dolphins believe they have the right succession plan.
Wayne Bennett is a hard act to follow but the Dolphins believe they have the right succession plan.

Life after Wayne Bennett has often been fraught with pitfalls at NRL clubs but chief executive Terry Reader insists the Dolphins are positioned to prosper after the great coach has gone.

The 74-year-old Bennett will lead the Dolphins for the final season in 2024 before handing over to his assistant Kristian Woolf

Woolf taking over from Bennett
Kristian Woolf is the next to have the “poisoned chalice” of taking over from Bennett. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

Mal Meninga once referred to the task of taking over from Bennett as an NRL coach as “a poisoned chalice”.

Teams Bennett has left in the past have often initially failed. That was the case with St George Illawarra, Newcastle, and after his second tenure in Brisbane. 

In his last season at the Broncos, in 2018, Bennett blooded a suite of youngsters including Payne Haas and Kotoni Staggs and made the finals. Two years later under Anthony Seibold they collected the wooden spoon.

Clubs have often struggled when great players have retired. Newcastle’s Andrew Johns, and Brisbane’s Allan Langer and Darren Lockyer left massive holes.

Bennett, a seven-time premiership winner, is one of the most successful coaches of all-time and he too will leave a void.

Every situation is different, but Reader said the Dolphins were positioned to handle post-Bennett life due to the looming seamless transition to his decorated assistant Woolf.

“The biggest difference with us is that when we made Wayne inaugural head coach the plan for his succession was what he wanted and what the club wanted,” Reader told AAP.

“He was involved with the appointment of Kristian as his main assistant coach initially, and also that he would take over in 2025 for three years.

“That gave our club instant stability and credibility.”

Reader said Woolf had options to coach elsewhere as a head coach in the NRL in 2023 and 2024 but decided to back the Dolphins’ vision for the future.

“Kristian had just won three Super League premierships with St Helens and turned Tonga into a global force,” Reader said.

“It says a lot about Kristian that he said he saw working under Wayne for two seasons as the final part of his apprenticeship.

“He knows what is involved as a head coach and he’s been a successful head coach. That is what sets us up for life after Wayne, compared to some of the other clubs that have been mentioned.

“From the moment we won the NRL licence we set up our academies and pathways underneath.

“Kristian really dug into all of that before he signed on with us. He is a big believer, like Wayne, that the top doesn’t work unless you have got the bottom sorted out.”

The Dolphins still have Bennett for the 2024 season and there is an option for him to continue with the club in another role in 2025 and beyond if he does not take up a head coaching position elsewhere.

Reader said the recruitment and retention of quality players beyond Bennett’s tenure was fundamental in securing the club’s long-term viability.

Future Dolphins captain and Queensland forward Tom Gilbert last year inked an extension that keeps him at the club until the end of 2028. 

Fullback and Maroons outside back Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow signed a five-year deal until the end of 2028.

This season the Dolphins have also recruited shrewdly with England international centre Herbie Farnworth joining the club from Brisbane until the end of 2026. 

Maroons prop and former Broncos enforcer Thomas Flegler inked a four-year deal while centre Jack Averillo, Canterbury’s leading try scorer in  2023, is on deck until the conclusion of the 2026 season.

The new recruits have given the Dolphins confidence they can improve on their 13th-placed finish of 2023.

Although Bennett could be coaching another NRL franchise in future years, he has been proactive in helping the club build a formidable roster in the seasons ahead.

“The key to all of that is that Wayne was involved in signing contracts for players who in most cases will be playing here after he finishes as a head coach,” Reader said.

“Everything Wayne has done with us was to set the club up not just for 2023 or this year but well into the future. We still hope Wayne will be involved in some capacity next year.

“When you look at the players we have re-signed and recruited they all did so knowing that they would have Wayne as coach initially, and then Kristian after that.”

AAP