Can Wayne Bennett, hailed by many as the greatest rugby league coach of all time, be so stupid?
“Old Man Winner”, now wearing the tracksuit of his fifth club, the Rabbitohs, has switched centre Greg Inglis to the right hand side for Friday night’s big game against arch rivals, the Roosters.
Centre stage: Wayne Bennett has indicated he will play Greg Inglis at right centre, opposite Latrell Mitchell.Credit:Janie Barrett
The ostensible reason is for Inglis to mark the most lethal attacking back in the game, the left side running, Latrell Mitchell. Oh, and also because Souths scored too many tries down Inglis’s preferred left hand side last year, the most of any NRL team by a decent margin of 14.
So, the switch of Inglis to the right is designed to render the Rabbitohs less of a southpaw team, plus counter the size, strength and speed of Mitchell. But what is Inglis’s greatest strength? He has a right-hand fend strong enough, as I’ve written before, to Palm Sunday. Playing him on the right hand side means he can’t use it.
It is a lesson Storm coach Craig Bellamy learnt when he played Inglis on the right hand side in the 2006 NRL grand final. The Storm’s opponents were Bennett’s Broncos.
Bellamy places great importance in centre/ wing combinations. He had noticed in the lead-up to the 2006 grand final that Bennett was playing Shaun Berrigan as hooker in attack and left centre in defence.
Master stroke? Wayne Bennett.Credit:AAP
In other words, when there was a turnover and the Storm had the ball, Berrigan would fly out from the ruck to mark Inglis.
Bellamy was aware Inglis’ fend was more suited to playing him on the left but was reluctant to break the centre/winger combinations developed over the season.
In any case, Bellamy calculated the Storm could get the ball to Inglis before Berrigan was in position. But Inglis repeatedly only half-slipped the tackle of Berrigan, unable to use his fend to break free. Berrigan felled Inglis, 15 centimetres taller, as if he was a giant oak. The Broncos won 15-8 and Berrigan was awarded the Clive Churchill medal.
Two or three days later, in deep discussion with Bellamy, he admitted he had made a mistake and he moved Inglis for the 2007 season, initially to five-eighth. The Storm won the premiership and Inglis was the Churchill medallist.
Thereafter, Inglis has played left centre for Souths, Queensland and Australia, or fullback. So, there is significant irony in Bennett winning one of his seven premierships via an opposition coach playing a lethal weapon on the wrong side and then repeating the error himself 13 years later.
It could well be a ruse, of course. Bennett may be merely telling the media he is playing Inglis on the right. Roosters coach Trent Robinson will probably be hoping GI lines up against Mitchell. It will mean an opponent coming off a troubled off-season and rumoured to be significantly overweight will be marking a man whose left-side runs set up the Roosters' 2018 grand final win.
Furthermore, Mitchell has Brett Morris, a three-try hero from the Roosters’ win in the recent World Club Challenge, positioned outside him. And inside Mitchell is five-eighth Luke Keary, the 2018 Clive Churchill medallist.
So who can Bennett position inside Inglis on the right-hand side to assist with this avalanche of left-side brilliance coming his way? Maybe Bennett has a mind for history, after all, and recalls his time at the Broncos when he moved Darren Lockyer from fullback to five-eighth. Aware that Lockyer would be targeted, Bennett positioned the intimidating Toni Carroll inside him.
Perhaps this means Sam Burgess, whom Bennett has already declared will be moved from the middle, will play inside GI on the right edge. However, the SCG has relaid new turf after the rah-rahs' scrum ripped it to pieces, and it has rained late this week. Inglis has a troublesome knee.
The “Skinny Coach” usually focuses on his own team, rather than the opposition. It’s remotely possible that Souths' left centre, young Braidon Burns, has a right arm to outfend GI, but you want everything going for your super star when he is marking the world’s best back.
Playing on an uncertain surface, with a dodgy knee, defending on a side he hasn’t played in 13 years and unable to use his lethal fend, doesn’t add up.
Bennett is good for rugby league in Sydney because he sells newspapers, but he leaves it to the reader to sort out the fake news.
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