How stars remember the mentor who built a club
WHEN Wayne Bennett arrived in Brisbane from Canberra as Broncos inaugural coach in 1988 he thought the job would last three years.
As he leaves 30 years later - 25 of them as Broncos coach - the question must be asked: how will he be remembered?
"As second to none," says Steve Renouf, who Bennett nurtured and polished from a shy 17-year-old kid into a four-time premiership winner, Origin and Test star and the Broncos record try scorer.
"Wayne was the main player in building the club. Nobody since has come close.
"I'm not taking away from the founding fathers or (first CEO) John Ribot, but Wayne was the one who really built the new club.
"He was the one who took a bunch of young kids and instilled pride into us and turned us into a very successful team.
"You look at all the grand final wins and the success on the field, but what you don't see is what went into it off the field. A lot of us were just 16 and 17 years old when we came to the club and it can be pretty hard to leave your family and come into that environment.
"Wayne had a way of taking those young boys and turning them into men. I know he made me a better person and a better man.
"He was a great leader of men. He had a way of getting the respect of the playing group and I know he still held that respect when he left the club."
Renouf rejects any suggestion that the way Bennett's second stint ended detracts from his legacy.
"There's no way that's true," he says.
"The legacy is too big, and even if you do look at the second stint it wasn't that bad.
"They should have won that (2015) grand final. They nearly did it and to do that in his first year back is a feat in itself.
"Everything that Wayne achieved at the club he worked hard for. He never got anything on a platter. Back in the early days he didn't have the coaching staff they have these days. He did everything himself.
"Maybe that's been a problem in recent years. He doesn't have that one-on-one contact with the younger players that he used to have with us. Maybe they would have got more out of their time with him if they had been with him as much as we were."
Wendell Sailor was another of those young men who still feels the benefits of Bennett's influence.
"As a coach he will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats," he said.
"He was the best there was and he's still got it. Every now and again you'd think, 'Surely he's had enough', but he's just as keen now as he ever was. The game never left him behind. He's always coming up with something new.
"Look at 2015. You wouldn't have thought the club was any chance of getting to that grand final but if it wasn't for a couple of individual moments they would have won another premiership. That was a massive effort just getting there.
"Everyone knows he's a great coach but it's what he does outside football that makes him special. That's going to be his legacy, the influence he has had on his players that is going to last forever.
"I remember one year I'd lost my dad, Steve Renouf had lost his dad, Brad Thorn had lost his dad and Kevvie Walters' missus was dying from cancer and somehow he managed to bring us all together. He made the team our family.
"He's always been there for me, and it wasn't always easy. I was a handful. Even after I left the club and got into trouble Wayne was the one I turned to. He always took my calls.
"You look at someone as a football coach and you can see all the games he's won but for me the main thing he'll be remembered for is teaching us how to navigate life."