Broken trust: Ugly end to 20-year Broncos friendship

 

Forget the Wayne Bennett-Anthony Seibold feud that will dominate the headlines this week.

The saddest fallout to come from Bennett's sacking at Brisbane was the ugly breakdown of his once rock-solid relationship with former captain and Broncos board member Darren Lockyer.

From having one of rugby league's closest and most successful friendships that spanned more than two decades, Bennett and Lockyer no longer speak.

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Wayne Bennett and Darren Lockyer have had one of the game’s most enduring friendships.
Wayne Bennett and Darren Lockyer have had one of the game’s most enduring friendships.

And they haven't done so basically since Bennett was handed his marching orders following the debacle at the end of the 2018 NRL season to make way for Seibold.

No doubt there won't be any catch-up calls this week either as the two prepare for another bitter blockbuster when South Sydney host the battling Broncos at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.

The Broncos board, which included Darren Lockyer, pushed to bring Anthony Seibold to the club. Picture: Annette Dew
The Broncos board, which included Darren Lockyer, pushed to bring Anthony Seibold to the club. Picture: Annette Dew


While there is no disputing other factors will also fuel motivation this week, including that Souths' players were far from happy with the way Seibold left to take over what he clearly thought was a better roster at Brisbane, the bust-up between Bennett and Lockyer was the most unexpected casualty to come from this famous coaching swap.

BROKEN TRUST

Lockyer could not be contacted on Sunday and Bennett would not talk about it either.

But what can't be denied is that of all the players Bennett has coached during his 45 years in the job, the captain-coach relationship he had with Lockyer was something extra special that went beyond most of those friendships.

For Bennett, it was probably only ever rivalled by the bond he had previously with Allan Langer, and perhaps more recently Darius Boyd.

Darren Lockyer and Wayne Bennett were as close as any captain and coach.
Darren Lockyer and Wayne Bennett were as close as any captain and coach.

He'd watched Lockyer rise from that unassuming country boy to conquer every mountain in the game, captaining his club, state and country along the way.

And for all those years Bennett always spoke with honour about Lockyer's brilliant career, taking great pride in the fact that he was Lockyer's only club coach for most of his 17 NRL seasons.

But that is also why Lockyer's stance throughout Brisbane's courtship with Seibold disappointed Bennett so deeply.

Lockyer has said previously that relationships at the club started to fracture once an initial approach was made to Craig Bellamy and in the end Bennett's position became untenable.

But there is no disputing that Brisbane had been in talks with Seibold for many months before he was officially appointed, and it was one of the game's worst kept secrets that the job was his as far back as July in 2018.

The won club, Origin and international honours together. Picture: Glenn Barnes
The won club, Origin and international honours together. Picture: Glenn Barnes


That is also the reason why there was so much animosity that Broncos legend Kevin Walters was basically treated with contempt during the interview process.

It ended up being nothing more than a charade with Seibold parachuted in a year early.

But that is precisely the reason Bennett took what happened so personally, because the veteran coach had a contract for the 2019 season and he was continually told Seibold wouldn't be brought in the year earlier.

Bennett had also knocked back an offer to coach Wests Tigers, and at that stage there was no guarantee anything was on the horizon at Souths.

What happened between Bennett and chief executive Paul White and chairman Karl Morris was collateral damage, but Lockyer's so-called secrecy cut his former coach to the core.

Some might see it as another insight into Bennett's pigheadedness that he should have just walked when he knew he was no longer wanted.

But in Bennett's mind it was always a matter of principle. That he would not quit on his players, or make it easy on the Broncos hierarchy.

There is no denying Bennett still has relationships with many at the Broncos but Lockyer isn't one of them.

Lockyer would have had his reasons and his position on the Broncos' board meant he could not be compromised because of a personal friendship.

Wayne Bennett and Darren Lockyer in 1997.
Wayne Bennett and Darren Lockyer in 1997.


But Bennett's view was that he never wanted to compromise Lockyer's position, he just believed their friendship had earned a certain level of trust.

Though it's not as simple as judging who is right and wrong.

It's just the sad reality that one of rugby league's most unforeseeable feuds has ruined a relationship that for so long seemed unbreakable.

Originally published as Broken trust: Ugly end to 20-year Broncos friendship



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