‘It’s personal’: Star reveals Bennett’s pain
James Graham raves about the wow factor. Benji Marshall says it's the personal touch that makes Wayne Bennett the most successful coach in NRL history.
Either way, both former pupils of the veteran super coach believe Bennett will be as motivated as ever to plot a South Sydney triumph over his old Brisbane club - now guided by ex-Rabbitohs mentor Anthony Seibold - in Thursday's so-called grudge match of the year.
"He's got a point to prove, I think, that he can still do it," Graham told Fox Sports' NRL 360. "He'll want to prove that against a team that thought he was finished."
Graham first played under Bennett when Bennett took over as England coach in 2016.
"There's a big difference between (being) an NRL coach week to week and getting the boys together at the end of the season," Graham said.
"When there's that pure brilliance (at rep level), he knows how to switch the boys on and off at the same time.
"The emphasis is on having fun. He speaks the truth, which is a big thing to the players. He doesn't sugar coat things." As he didn't during the 2017 World Cup.
"Another great side of him is he's not afraid to criticise his best," Graham recalled.
"From being an English player, it was quite shocking but refreshing and it built a lot of belief in the boys that we were doing the right things when he came out and publicly criticised our best player, Sam Burgess.
"We were like, 'Wow, this guy speaks the truth'."
Earlier in 2017, Bennett handed Marshall a lifeline at the Broncos when, at 32, the one-time world player of the year's NRL career appeared over. Now back at the Wests Tigers, Marshall has no doubt Bennett will be extra fired-up to get one over the Broncos.
"Of course you can tell it's a bit personal and that it hurt him having to leave Brisbane," Marshall said.
"He felt like he didn't want to leave his players and, in the end, that would have hurt him a lot."
Marshall also lauded Bennett's personal touch. "He always had his players' best interests at heart," Marshall said ahead of Bennett's big showdown with Seibold and the Broncos.
"So off the field he always wanted to know about your family. He always wanted to see if you're OK financially or if you needed any help in that department.
"I know for a fact that he managed a couple of the Broncos players' financial situation as well as being the coach.
"Just little things like that, when he actually made me feel like he cared about you as a person away from footy as well."
But no one survives more than 30 years in the ARL and NRL coaching business, wins seven premierships and guides three different teams to grand finals without having football smarts too.
"He's a strong leader," Marshall said. "He puts the onus on honesty with his players.
"As a player, I thought he was really good at simplifying your role and making sure that you understand on game day exactly what you need to do in your role within a team.
"Sometimes that can get confused during a season.
"A very simple coach, though. Very direct messaging, but very basic."
A coach that, according to Graham, always says "go out there, give your best and give yourself an opportunity to win the game". And a coach of some 816 premiership games who won't be rattled by the intense build-up to Thursday night's blockbuster.
"He's been around far too long to get caught up in what that (hype) normally does and to overly think things," Graham said.
"He's been here before when he was coach of the Dragons playing against the Broncos. He's coached at Newcastle playing against the Dragons and the Broncos.
"So it's not a new experience him for him."
Marshall believes it's duels like these in which Bennett thrives. "What I like most - and I've seen it first hand when these big games came up - he just has this uncanny knack of making the attention all about him and not about the players," Marshall said.
"So everyone's talking about what Wayne's doing, not so much about putting pressure on what the team's doing.
"This week we've just talked about Wayne and he's talked about (Brisbane's long-time Bennett favourite) Darius (Boyd) and no one's really talked about the team - and that takes the pressure off the team."