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‘He wasn’t up to the job’: How Kevin Walters proved Wayne Bennett wrong

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September 29, 2023 — 5.47am

Wayne Bennett has long maintained he’s the only one who can successfully coach the Brisbane Broncos. He certainly didn’t think Kevin Walters could do the job.

When Bennett was at war with then Broncos chief executive Paul White in 2017, he told the club he wanted assistant Jason Demetriou to eventually succeed him ahead of Walters, who was also on his coaching staff.

“I didn’t want Kevin,” Bennett told me in an interview for the recently released biography The Wolf You Feed. “I didn’t think he was up for the job.”

Bennett often theorises that only a special, battle-hardened individual who can withstand the pressure and scrutiny of coaching the Broncos can handle the Red Hill hot seat.

In other words, himself. In many respects, he’s been proven right: Ivan Henjak, Anthony Griffin and Anthony Seibold all failed to deliver.

As the club careers towards Sunday’s grand final against Penrith at Accor Stadium, it turns out Walters is more than capable.

Kevin Walters and Wayne Bennett.

Kevin Walters and Wayne Bennett.Credit: Marija Ercegovac

Coaching the Broncos is Walters’ dream job. He coveted it for years as he bounced from one club to another as an assistant coach and twice under Bennett.

He was finally given the nod in 2021 after a relentless campaign from his former teammates, led by Chris Johns and Gorden Tallis.

For his first two seasons, the normally jovial Kevvie presented like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. When I had lunch with him during the off-season, he barely cracked a smile, looking every bit like a coach who needed a top-four finish to keep his job.

Certainly, they have a production line that every club – except, perhaps, the Panthers – would envy.

It’s why Bennett wanted to hang around: he could see the quality players coming, rising through the ranks. Instead, he was sacked in 2018 because of a bitter fallout with White and News Corp, the club’s majority shareholder.

As Bennett and Walters will tell you, managing expectation, scrutiny and the ego of players who are feted like rock stars in rugby league-obsessed Brisbane is fundamental to success.


But Walters had a particularly tough job. Not only did he inherit a crestfallen team that finished last in 2020 following two disastrous years under Seibold, but also a roster that – excuse the crassness – didn’t seem to give a shit.

Walters’ great mate and former halves partner, Allan Langer, summed it up when comparing the current crop to Bennett-coached teams of the past.

“I look at the last few years at the Broncos,” Langer told me in early 2022. “It was a disaster because the group didn’t want to play for each other. They didn’t hurt enough when they lost. A Wayne Bennett team hurts when it loses. So does he.”

Exactly why Walters has got the Broncos finally humming is hard to pin down, but it’s clear losing hurts again.

He’s made some significant moves in just three years. He personally ensured South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds came to the club and was then savvy and humble enough to allow Reynolds to run the team. The payoff: the 33-year-old is playing the best football of his career, telling earlier this week he’s “fallen deeply in love with the club”.

For two years, prop Payne Haas threatened to leave for bigger money in Sydney, but Walters kept quietly telling us that he would convince him to stay. And he did, with Haas committing until the end of 2027.

Then there’s Reece Walsh, the uber-talented fullback who has gone from lairy loudmouth who sprays referees to calm, respectful superstar all in the space of one season.

So Walters has gone from coaching for his life at the start of the season to being one win away from becoming the first Broncos coach since Bennett in 2006 to land a premiership. Sunday will seem an eternity away from late 2005 when Bennett sacked him as an assistant coach.

“How do I get better?” Walters asked at the time.

“Not the right time to ask that question,” Bennett grumbled.

Bennett then handed Walters a written reference on Broncos letterhead. It was so touching and full of praise that Walters started to cry.

“Mate, if I was this good,” Walters asked, “why’d you sack me?”

Sonny Bill summed up Jones debacle

Revelations from my Herald colleague Tom Decent on Sunday morning AEST that Wallabies coach Eddie Jones had been interviewed on August 25 by Japanese rugby officials about coaching their national side from next year have been met with conspiracy theories from some quarters.

Some claimed the Herald sat on the story until game day to inflict as much pain on Jones and the Wallabies as possible.

Decent can fight his own battles, but this argument is an utter fallacy. Stories like this take time to be properly sourced, corroborated, checked then checked again. There are endless discussions and meetings with lawyers and editors.

Once a story like this is ready to roll, you publish immediately - especially with rival media organisations sniffing around it. That happened to be on Sunday morning.

Eddie Jones was booed every time he appeared on the screen in Lyon.

Eddie Jones was booed every time he appeared on the screen in Lyon.Credit: AP

Perhaps people should stop theorising about this masthead’s motives and start asking questions of Jones, who wants out less than a year into a five-year contract.

On Monday morning, following the Wallabies’ record 40-6 loss to Wales, Sonny Bill Williams stood on the sidelines in Lyon in commentary for Stan Sport.

While the former Wallabies on the coverage highlighted systemic problems in Australian rugby, the former All Black said what most of us were thinking.

“If I’m a player ... I’m not following a guy that’s sitting having a meeting with another national team, potentially looking for another job days before you’re hopping on the plane to come to this World Cup,” Williams said.

Two years ago, your humble columnist was standing on the set of The Footy Show, chatting behind the cameras with Williams.

He admitted he wasn’t the most polished commentator and had much to learn about broadcasting but was persisting because he was, as a proud Samoan, representing the countless Pasifika people who play and watch rugby league and union.

On Monday morning, he represented the dozens of Australian rugby supporters who still follow the Wallabies.

Of course, Jones can’t be blamed for rugby’s never-ending fight for survival – but didn’t he come back to turn this sinking ship around?

Vale “Chow” Hayes

Sad news this week with the passing of legendary rugby league man John “Chow” Hayes at age of 84.

Hayes was a hard-nosed forward for Western Suburbs in the 1960s who went on to coach North Sydney before managing Australian teams. As a former NSW Police chief inspector, very little got past Chow.

He was always tremendous company, particularly if there was a cold schooner in his hand and his former Wests teammate, Noel Kelly, was standing with him.

John ‘Chow’ Hayes in action for Wests against St George in 1961.

John ‘Chow’ Hayes in action for Wests against St George in 1961.Credit: Fairfax Media

Soon enough, the controversial 1963 grand final against St George would come up and how their Wests teammate, Jack Gibson, reported before the match that referee Darcy Lawler had backed the opposition.

History remembers that grand final for Sun-Herald photographer John O’Gready‘s famous image of mud-soaked captains Norm Provan and Arthur Summons embracing.

Wests players remember it for the controversial try awarded to Dragons winger Johnny King, who scored in the corner after fullback Don Parish appeared to tackle him and King got up and ran again.

King is adamant Parish slipped off the tackle, but Chow always insisted he heard Lawler say, “Play it”.

Typical of the man, he would graciously say it didn’t cost his side the premiership.


“The Kansas City Chiefs are on a dynasty run. Now they have the biggest star on earth in their suite, dating their best player … They’re about to win the Super Bowl again and it’s all because of Taylor Swift.” — ESPN’s Pat McAfee reckons Swift dating tight-end Travis Kelce can help the Chiefs defend their Super Bowl title. Tay-Tay, is there anything you can’t do?


Yes, yes … Shaun Johnson probably deserved the Dally M Player of the Year but don’t discount the efforts of Kalyn Ponga, who pipped him in the last round of voting. From early season concussion that threatened to end his career to finally becoming a consistent club footballer.

Imagine being “insulted” by the Welcome to Country at a sporting fixture. Imagine claiming it’s another example of the AFL “telling” people how to think. Imagine prompting fans to boo it. Imagine being as miserable as Sam Newman.

It’s a big weekend for … the not-so-sleepy city of Brisneyland, which has a team in the AFL and NRL grand finals for the first time in history. The Brisbane Lions meet Collingwood at the MCG on Saturday afternoon before the Broncos go after Penrith at Accor Stadium on Sunday night. Pace yourself, my Queensland brothers and sisters.

It’s an even bigger weekend for … the Ryder Cup, which not that long ago looked like becoming an irrelevant little teams event in the shadows of the LIV revolution. But peace was (kind of) declared between the warring tribes and while LIV-aligned players like Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter aren’t eligible for Team Europe, you can bet Rory McIlroy will have a point to prove against Team USA at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome.