Bennett to Eels has romance but PNG compels: Maranta

Joel Gould |

Dolphins mentor Wayne Bennett had Jack Gibson’s recommendation to become Brisbane coach in 1988.
Dolphins mentor Wayne Bennett had Jack Gibson’s recommendation to become Brisbane coach in 1988.

Jack Gibson was integral to Wayne Bennett becoming inaugural Brisbane coach in 1988, which is one reason why the concept of Bennett coaching Parramatta in the future has such romance and allure.

Gibson, and loyal right-hand man Ron Massey, were idolised by Bennett in his early mentoring years and shaped him as a coach and a man.

Founding Broncos chairman Barry Maranta has the back-story to the Gibson-Bennett connection but is highly sceptical that the 74-year-old Dolphins coach will end up at the Eels next year, or any year.

Maranta has a 37-year association with Bennett, who won six titles at the Broncos. 

He told AAP he did not envisage Bennett returning to coach in Sydney again. 

He can, however, imagine a scenario where Bennett heads up a future NRL franchise such as Papua New Guinea if asked to do so by ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys.

Bennett will coach the Dolphins for a final season in 2024. He has been linked to several clubs, one of them the Eels, a club famously coached by Gibson to three consecutive titles from 1981-83.

Parramatta have not won a premiership since 1986. They missed the finals last year and are yet to set the world on fire in 2024. Head coach Brad Arthur is on contract until the end of 2025 and the Eels have denied approaching Bennett to take over, as they did in 2018 when he was linked to the club when his Broncos tenure had ended.

Bennett had fun with the media on Thursday when it was put to him, on two occasions, that he almost went to the Eels six years ago.

“Not even nearly. I haven’t even walked past the ground,” Bennett grinned. 

“Look, I have got a fair idea about what I have done in my life. You need to go and read another book and see what that one says because Wayne Bennett has never been near the Eels in his coaching career.

“I loved Jack Gibson and Ron Massey … both wonderful men. They were big influences on my life, and my coaching life, but that doesn’t mean to say that is going to get me to the Eels.”

In 1987, Maranta and his fellow directors were seeking a head coach to lead the Broncos the following year and turned to five-time premiership winner Gibson.

Jack Gibson Eels
Jack Gibson (c) celebrates Parramatta’s 1983 grand final win with Peter Wynn (l) and Steve Ella. (HANDOUT/STEVE EDGE)

“Gibson was the one that recommended Bennett to us when we had other fellas like John Lang, Bob McCarthy and Ross Strudwick in the mix,” Maranta told AAP.

“In those days Gibson was Aristotle. You sat at his feet and learned from him.

“There is a built-in myopia from people in Sydney. Copernicus worked out the earth goes around the sun. In Sydney they think the world revolves around Sydney.

“Gibson was the first who went to America to investigate body-contact sports. He came back with brilliant ideas and applied them at the Roosters and Parramatta. He could think outside the square.

“Our research told us that if Jack Gibson said someone was worthy, we should put great weight in his words.”

Maranta said Bennett had always been prepared to take advice in his coaching career, like Gibson before him.

“You have to be smart enough to have masters of the craft around you, and that is what Bennett did in all kinds of ways,” Maranta said.

“Massey and Gibson gave him support. I took him to the US and he sat down with Dan Reeves for several weeks, who was the head coach of the Denver Broncos.

“Bennett told me Reeves enunciated the same things that he himself was thinking about the art of coaching.

“It was a consolidation of his own thought processes.

“That is how Bennett evolved. He read books. He wanted to know about (legendary gridiron coaches) Tom Landry and Bill Walsh. Bennett wanted to work with knowledge, not ignorance.”

Wayne bennett
Wayne Bennett won six premierships with the Brisbane Broncos. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

Maranta, who understands media and the circus that is the NRL better than most, appreciated the romantic notion of Bennett going to coach Gibson’s old team.

He did not discount the possibility of it occurring either. Stranger things have happened in rugby league.

“It is a good story, just with the adulation Bennett had for Gibson and Massey. Their influence on him was profound but they are both long gone. It encloses all the issues and puts it all into a nice little knot, but I don’t think Parramatta is in his sights,” Maranta said

“I could be wrong, but I don’t see Wayne going south at all. I understand the interest in it, but I see all the speculation and chuckle.

“Wayne has also got a family here and at this stage of his life I think that is fairly significant. There are other driving forces in his life outside of rugby league.”

Maranta is a strong believer that a PNG side in the NRL would work if nurtured correctly for three years. He has his own plan that he has discussed with the game’s hierarchy.

Bennett’s brother Bob Bennett coached PNG for a decade and took the Kumuls to the 2000 Rugby League World Cup. The family has a close connection to Australia’s close neighbour where rugby league is the national sport.

“Wayne heading up a PNG team in the NRL for Peter V’landys would make a lot of sense to me,” Maranta said.

“What Wayne has done with the Dolphins in a short space of time is extraordinary. There is no way that a PNG team could be put straight into the competition like the Dolphins, but it is not beyond Wayne to contribute something similar. 

“That makes more sense to me than him heading south.”