The 20-year association between Wayne Bennett and the board and management of the Brisbane Broncos was always going to end less than amicably. Today there is no doubt whatsoever about which incident was the catalyst for the coach’s resignation.
And because there is no doubt, the stubborn refusal of the Broncos CEO, Bruno Cullen, to acknowledge even a remote connection is bewildering. It does nothing whatsoever for his credibility.
Announcing his resignation, Bennett pinpointed 10 December 2007 as the day he decided his time at the Broncos would end prematurely. On the previous day, 9 December, the Brisbane Sunday Mail, in a front page story, reported that Bennett had been the beneficiary of the extraordinary generosity of one of Queensland’s richest men, coal magnate, Ken Talbot.
Talbot, and former Queensland Minister, Gordon Nuttall, are currently facing a committal hearing on alleged corruption charges involving six figure payments from Talbot to Nuttall while he was a Minister.
By pinpointing the date he decided to leave in his statement, Bennett has left no doubt in my mind that he believes the leaking of Talbot’s extraordinary generosity – $100,000 a year for 10 years to set up a trust fund for Bennett’s two disabled children – was designed to undermine his position at the Broncos.
Bennett has a difficult relationship with the media, but he is very media savvy and he knew that a story planted in the mass circulation Queensland newspaper owned by News Limited, also the majority shareholder in the Broncos, was not put there to do him any favours.
His relationship with the board and the management of the Broncos had been deteriorating for some time. His secret plan to leave the Broncos in 2006 and join arch rivals, the Sydney Roosters, rocked the Broncos management. The Roosters led the fight against News Limited’s Super League in the mid 1990’s.
But the Talbot gift story, coming after Talbot and Nuttall were charged, further damaged Bennett’s standing with News and the Broncos board. It did him no favours in the community where he enjoyed a very high, and generally favourable, profile. (Today’s Courier Mail devotes no less that 12 pages to his resignation – including pages one, two, and four!).
Bennett will have had a fair idea where the leak about Talbot’s generosity came from. He will also have deduced (rightly) that it was yet another sign the Broncos Board wanted to show him the door.
The carefully worded Bennett resignation statement yesterday only confirms how hostile the parting really is, thanking the players, the pre-News Limited founders of the club, and the fans. Neither the Board, which pays his half a million plus salary, nor Bruno Cullen rate a mention.