Renowned and long-standing NRL coach Wayne Bennett has claimed that his latest coaching role with The Dolphins may not be his last in rugby league, with the 72-year-old admitting he's not even considering a life after football.
Bennett has admitted that he doesn't expect any immediate success at the NRL's newest franchise, claiming there is ‘no time frame' on the team's development despite his two-year commitment. Bennett will hand the reins to Kristian Woolf – who has never coached in the NRL – in 2025.
The veteran coach has a lot of faith in his understudy, despite the criticisms over his selection.
At the time, Bennett selected Woolf from a talent pool that included Redcliffe Dolphins Queensland Cup coach Adam Mogg, former Panthers assistant and new Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo, and the late Paul Green.
Despite their lack of common history, Bennett has a lot of respect for Woolf's accomplishments, enjoying success at under-20s, Queensland Cup and Super League level and leading the Tongan revolution on the international stage.
“Kristian is ready for the NRL,” Bennett told the Daily Telegraph.
“I chose him because I believe he's done a great apprenticeship. He's been an assistant, but importantly he has coached his own teams in Queensland Cup and done a great job with St Helens.
“If you want to survive in the NRL these days, your best journey is to go and learn and be prepared to make sacrifices with your family, moving everywhere and anywhere.”
While it wasn't a determining factor, there was at least one key criteria in Bennett's mind when it came time to appoint the Mt Isa-born Woolf.
“I believe you have to be a Queenslander to coach the Dolphins,” Bennett said.
“You have to ‘get' Queensland. The majority of Queensland NRL clubs have Queensland kids.
“I'm not saying other coaches can't be successful, but you have to get Queenslanders. Queensland people are different, it's just a gut feel. It's something that lives inside you. I'm not a psychologist.
“Any Queenslander will tell you they're different. They get it. They don't need to explain it.
“Kristian is a Queenslander. I don't have a history with him, but I'm confident in him and I've spoken to him enough times to know he has what it takes.”
Despite the faith he has in his eventual replacement, Bennett isn't thinking too far into his own future, keeping his options open despite the approach of what could be deemed a conventional retirement age.
“Don't mention retirement with me,” Bennett said when prodded.
“I'm not talking about retirement. I'm talking about doing two years and who knows what happens after that.
“I went to South Sydney on a three-year deal and did three years – but I kept coaching. Now I'm at the Dolphins.
“If Kristian was a younger coach, I would have done three or four years, but he's coming for the right reasons and I don't want to hold Kristian back. He deserves his chance.
“I don't really know what my next role will be. I'm not at the retirement stage. I don't know how I'll feel in two years, but I'll get those two done and see what happens after that.”
Bennett's refusal to be drawn on his future comes as no surprise, given how focused he is on developing the new team.
But despite media and betting market expectations, Bennett refuses to be drawn too much on the Dolphins' prospects for 2023.
“To be honest, I can't answer where we finish right now,” Bennett said.
“I'm not going to make any predictions… a lot has to happen.
“It's a big task, I know that. The new clubs all have their battles and we'll be no different. But it's how we handle those battles that will determine whether we come out of tough moments quicker than we might stay in them.
“I'm happy with the starting pack we are building, but we do need to get some backs and (we are) working on that.
“We will build on that, we'll make the club better if we have to, we'll do the things we have to over the next period of years and that's the process.
“When you get away from the process… that's when you lose your way.
“That's not going to happen at the Dolphins under my watch.”