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Broncos say goodbye to a legend

Published: 7:12PM Wednesday September 03, 2008 Source: AAP

Wayne Bennett has farewelled 137 players from the Brisbane club he's steered since its inception 21 years ago.

Now it's the club's turn to say goodbye to a man whose legacy is a great sporting franchise success story.

Brisbane fans are expected to turn out in their droves to the Broncos' final regular season match against Newcastle at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night to show their appreciation for a man who brought them so much pleasure over so many years.

Statistics can tell only a small part of the Bennett story but they're certainly eye-catching.

He leaves Brisbane for St George Illawarra next year with a coaching record that may never be bettered.

Six grand final appearances (1992-93-97-98-2000-2006) for six premierships.

The most wins (350) by any man who's coached in 100 years.

He's also shaped the careers of many champions from day one, starting with the cheeky fair-haired larrikin from Ipswich, Allan Langer.

Throw in 35 players who pulled on the green and gold of Australia, four Test captains, Rothmans, Dally M and Golden Boot winners and it's hard to argue Bennett was anything but a genius at bringing the best out of players.

Bennett, a winger/fullback for Brothers in the 1970s, takes little credit for himself.

"I've been very lucky. I've had wonderful players which makes the job a whole lot easier," he has said.

But Broncos CEO Bruno Cullen has no doubt about Bennett's place in Brisbane's history.

"He put the structures in place, instilled the culture, the professionalism, the winning desire and passion to play for the Broncos," Cullen said.

"He turned the joint into one of the most successful clubs in the world.

"We have to make sure we carry on the culture Wayne has created, he doesn't take that with him when he goes."

A former policeman who was once seen smiling during an interview, Bennett modelled himself on the best in the business, legendary coach Jack Gibson.

He also credits his success to his relationship with close friend and confidant Bob Bax, a man ahead of his time when it came to compiling key stats on players during the 50s and 60s.

Bax boasted a record to more than challenge Gibson and his protege Bennett, winning nine of his 14 Brisbane grand finals and getting to the finals 17 times in 18 years.

Bennett once said of Gibson: "I loved what he stood for as a coach, I loved the way he took on the establishment.

"When I got into coaching, I wanted to be like Jack."

Gibson was never afraid to make the tough decisions, a trait which helped make Bennett such an intimidating figure.

Bennett showed his mettle there from the very early days, sacking the King, Wally Lewis, as Broncos captain.

The public outcry was overwhelming, with irate fans calling for the Broncos to re-instate Lewis and sack Bennett.

It was just one of many hardline stands Bennett took for his team.

Lewis was able to smile on Wednesday about his sacking which ultimately saw him leave the club to play for the Gold Coast in 1991.

"There were a couple of tough moments for me and a lot of other players where we didn't agree with him," said Lewis.

"But when you look back, you may not have agreed with them at the time, but they were made for the long-term benefit of the Broncos.

"Benny made some tough decisions and didn't really care if they upset people.

"He wasn't the kind of guy who stands by the letter box to see how many Christmas cards he got."

Cullen said Bennett would have "no regrets" when the end came.

"Wayne will walk away from here as the most successful rugby league coach in the history of the game with six premierships and having never lost a grand final," he said.

"This year will be his 18th straight finals appearance so he has to walk away an extremely happy man and very relaxed with what he's achieved."

Cullen, whose relationship with his coach suffered after it was revealed Bennett was planning to leave to replace Ricky Stuart at the Roosters in 2007, said strength of mind was one of Bennett's great qualities.

"It's his resilience and his self belief that makes him so strong," said Cullen.

"Someone said recently that we don't always get everything right and we all make mistakes.

"Wayne's made those as well.

"But it's the resilience of the man, the drive, the confidence and belief that what he is doing is right.

"He's just a true icon of the game."

Cullen was hopeful Brisbane would be out in full force to thank Bennett and departing veteran player Tonie Carroll on Friday night.

He said it was sad to be in Sydney last week when only 7000 fans turned up to the final match for Steve Folkes who'd given the Bulldogs three decades as a player and coach.

"The guy gave 30 years to the club and was involved in four or five premierships," said Cullen.

"To have 7000 people turn up in an 80,000-seat stadium was very disappointing.

"I'm not bagging the Canterbury fans, I just thought Steve Folkes deserved better than that.

"I hope we can do that for Wayne and Tunza (Carroll) on Friday night."