Petero to Bennett: Quit while you’re ahead
BRISBANE front-row legend Petero Civoniceva has urged Wayne Bennett to retire next year, fearing the super coach risks "damaging his legacy" if he wins a boardroom battle to call the shots at the Broncos in 2020.
On the eve of Brisbane's clash against the Bulldogs, Civoniceva says it's time for Bennett to pass the coaching baton and believes Darren Lockyer and Kevin Walters could be ideal successors to fill the Broncos throne.
Bennett, off-contract at the end of next year, is determined to coach the Broncos in 2020, but his hopes of one final 12-month term will hinge on Brisbane's results over the next eight weeks.
There is an uneasy tension at Red Hill, with the Broncos board last week gagging Bennett after the veteran mentor publicly challenged chairman Karl Morris to come clean about his future.
Bennett is clearly prepared to go down swinging, but Civoniceva - one of the coach's greatest supporters despite the prop's shock exit from the Broncos in 2007 - says the 68-year-old must seriously consider retirement.
"I think next year could be the right time for transition," Civoniceva said. "I remember a conversation with Wayne that always resonates with me.
"I remember Wayne sitting a group of us senior Broncos players down one day. He talked about getting the call right on when to hang the boots up and saying it's always wise to leave one year too early, than one year too late.
"I remember him vividly saying you don't want to be that guy that goes on one year too long and falls over the edge.
"In 2012, I knew it was time for me to retire and I felt like if I went one more year, I risked going too long.
"I think Wayne should consider if it's timely for him next year. He will be nearing his 70th birthday and that would be a good time to look forward and create an opportunity for the next coach to take over."
The Bennett-Civoniceva narrative is fascinating. Civoniceva was one of Bennett's most cherished forwards but the Broncos dropped a bombshell on the Fijian in 2007, withdrawing a contract offer after months of fruitless negotiations.
Civoniceva ultimately signed a more lucrative deal at Penrith and Bennett admits the Maroons warhorse's departure is one of his great regrets in coaching.
Despite the drama, Civoniceva still regards Bennett as his most influential coach, but says the NRL's greatest mentor has nothing left to prove in a remarkable career laced with seven premierships.
"His legacy will always endure at the Broncos," he said.
"His contribution to the club and the game in general is incredible. There really is nothing more for Wayne to do. I think it's important that Wayne doesn't damage his legacy and gets out at the right time.
"It's a tough decision for the board. They have to look at whether there is an opportunity here to create a new legacy with someone new at the helm. You can't take anything away from Wayne and what he has done, but is it now time for change?
"I guess a lot will hinge on how the Broncos finish this season. If they go all the way this year, it will be hard to move Wayne on, but a tough decision will have to be made and I'm confident the Broncos board will get it right."
Lockyer was touted as a future Broncos coach when he retired in 2011 and Civoniceva believes he has the work ethic and knowledge to succeed.
The 309-game enforcer also backed the claims of Queensland Origin coach Walters and Bennett's assistant Jason Demetriou.
"It's a question of whether Locky wants to do it," he said.
"Locky has the capabilities if he was willing to coach, but he has been out of the game seven years now and seems happy with his media and family commitments. If it isn't Locky, I think there are other worthy candidates like Kevin Walters and Demetriou.
"Kevvie is such a great man who understands the Broncos culture. Demetriou is a very good young coach, he has been at the club for two years and has been knocking on the door for a while.
"Any of those three guys would be up to the task of succeeding Wayne."