Cleary & Bennett – What Were They Thinking?

Ivan Cleary Facing the Media
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

Ivan Cleary and Wayne James Bennett are two simply outstanding Rugby League coaches. Cleary is somebody who miraculously guided the Warriors to the 2011 NRL Grand Final (and NZ’s first since 2002). Whilst he currently has the Panthers firing on all cylinders in 1st position this season. So far this campaign, they have 11 wins and a draw from 13 played matches.

As for Bennett, he is somebody who has won an incredible 7 Premierships as head-honcho of both Brisbane and then St George. Not to mention the success he also achieved in charge of Canberra, Newcastle and now at Souths. Both men are considered to be Footy geniuses and are held in high regards by both their own teams, as well as opposition sides.

I want to make my opinion perfectly clear, whilst both are very brilliant at their respective roles, they are also both incredibly dumb and here is why.

Penrith comfortably beat Canberra last round, 28-12 at home. Yet Cleary, despite this, had the audacity to proclaim the Raiders were “managed” back into the game.

As for Bennett, he breached the NRL’s COVID safety rules. Rules specifically designed so that the Rugby League season could continue, despite the virus spreading in/around Australia at the moment. Rules that he stupidly broke when he chose to go out to eat with his partner.

I’ll look at Cleary first then Bennett.

Like father, like son! First, it was Nathan breaking the rules, now this time it’s his fathers turn to drag the NRL’s name through the mud. I think it’s fair to say that Penrith didn’t exactly get the rub of the green in the 2nd half of their match last Saturday. A few calls didn’t go their way, that perhaps shouldn’t have. But a few things to note on that, looking at the game’s overall statistics, Canberra (7) actually gave up more penalties overall then Penrith (6). The Raiders also had a player put on report. The Panthers had more possession during the match at 51%. So, when you look further into it, compared to the initial first glance, the game was actually a lot more even then Cleary’s comments made it out to be.

Peter V’Landys rightfully labelled Cleary’s comments as “deplorable”. He’s (rightfully) been fined $20,000 for said comments. NRL coaches are entitled to their opinions, but what Cleary said went beyond that. What his comment meant to me personally, was that he was implying that the ref likes/or follows the Raiders, hence him making calls that would make the game and potentially the score-line a bit closer for them. His comments were (in my opinion) more of an aim at the ref’s integrity, rather than the correctness of the calls themselves. And you simply cannot do that! Refs are only human, they are bound to make wrong or incorrect calls every now and again as well. And while it’s not right, over the balance of a match or a season, it generally balances itself out.

Verdict: Clearly has every right to question the refs ……… But most definitely not in the way that he did.

As for Wayne Bennett, there are so many more pieces to this puzzling, crazy story. When questioned by the NRL’s integrity unit as to how many times he’s broken the rules, he supposedly lied to them. He then spoke to the media and claimed, “I know I’m still allowed to eat, aren’t I?”. Mocking the rules that were put in place to ensure the integrity, health and survival of the season of all those involved. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he is a part of the League’s Apollo Team, the task force that was designed to get the season up and running and without any major interruptions. He claimed that ‘the rules are changing all the time’, but he helped create those rules for the NRL.

All of that aside, he put himself, his team and the league in danger. He could have very easily infected any/ all of the Rabbitohs, which could have then ripped through the entire NRL very quickly.

$20,000 dollars in the form of a fine and two weeks away from his side isn’t enough. If the rumours are true, that he’s been out to eat frequently whilst his side has been in a strict bubble, then he deserves to have the entire book and then some thrown at him. Ban him without pay for the rest of a season so that he will start taking all of this seriously.

COVID-19 is serious, 400 people in Australia were able to trace back their infection to 1 person. COVID can spread to inordinately large amounts of people in a very short span. Had Bennett been infected and spread it to many others, that could have spelled the end of the current Rugby League season but even worse could result in death. He is a very selfish, arrogant person, who as a senior figure of the NRL, currently does not deserve to be in the position that he is.

Adding to the already laughable, but sad reality that Bennett tried so hard to defend himself, is that his partner, whom he went out to an Italian lunch with, has now jumped to his defence as well. In an Instagram post, she wrote, “We can all make mistakes but the voices of some are the ones with the biggest skeletons in their closets!” Whaaaaat! 👀.

Most NRL players/ officials/ coaches have kept to their homes, with the exception of going to work. Bennett clearly thought he was above the rest, supposedly lied about it and got caught and now has to get his partner to try and get him a public sympathy vote. He and his partner need not jeopardise the entire future of the game, whilst she needs to keep her self-obsessed opinions to herself and shut up or apologise publicly. Whilst for Bennett, he needs to take proper ownership of his deplorable actions.

Verdict: Bennett’s partner needs to stay out of this and Bennett himself needs to start acting like his real age of 70 and not like a 5-year-old trying to avoid getting in trouble from Mum and Dad!

Normally I would cover just the one issue. But these two were just too juicy for one to miss out. Not everyone will agree with what was just written, but that’s not what I’m here for. At the end of the day, both are truly great coaches, that we are ultimately lucky to call our own in the National Rugby League. But Cleary needs to speak fairly differently next time if he wishes to voice his displeasures with the ref. And Bennett needs to get on board with the whole COVID rules thing, which he ironically should be already given he was part of the committee that wrote them up, to begin with! Or he needs to bail the hell out of this season and possibly next all together! And with that, this author is out (drops mic and leaves the stage).

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