Kevin Walters has described his dismissal by Wayne Bennett as a « blessing in disguise » as he prepares for a coaching showdown with the mentor who once dropped the most painful bullet of his Broncos career.
The 35-year collaboration between Walters and Bennett will be another convincing episode on Thursday night when the duo first appear as head coach at the Broncos-Souths clash at Stadium Australia.
It is precisely on homebush turf that the couple celebrated a special moment: Bennett remembered asking his then skipper Walters to stay fit while piloting the Broncos in their 2000 loss to the Roosters.
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Their union was fascinating to articulate and explain. Like a footballing equivalent of a long marriage, there have been ups, downs, tears, fights, disagreements, and periods of ecstasy and adversity … but Bennett insists they have a bond that can’t and never will be over.
Ironically, it’s a strength of relationship created by a nerve-wracking episode the moment Bennett called Walters into his Red Hill office and, on October 7, 2005, dismissed the seemingly unthinkable « Kevvie » as his assistant coach for Broncos.
Walters was filthy. He whipped Bennett at the time, claiming he was pushed because « I’m not a yes man ». Bennett, a sage like an old fox, believed Walters would have to move away from the Broncos and see a world outside of Red Hill in order to expand his trainer lens.
« To be honest, it was a godsend that Wayne let me go, » Walters said before meeting Bennett for the first time on Thursday night.
« I’ve taken so many good things off Wayne. I don’t have a bad feeling about what he did.
« It was because of that moment that I took my coaching career all over the world. I was with the (Ipswich) Jets in Queensland with Catalans in the Super League and in Melbourne (as assistant to Craig Bellamy).
« There’s a big wide world out there and I had to explore it. Wayne showed me that. I’m very excited now that I left the Broncos. It put me in the position I am in today. »
When Walters rose to the Broncos post he coveted for so long last October and which replaced Anthony Seibold, Bennett News Corp gave a rare glimpse of his pain in cutting the line with ‘Kevvie’. He admitted that they both collapsed.
« It was a heartbreaking time for both of us, » said Bennett of Walters’ release from Red Hill.
« Telling Kevvie to leave at the end of this 2005 season was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
« He had tears in his eyes and I was on the verge of destroying myself. It was painful. Very painful. But it was the right thing.
« I felt like Kevin wasn’t going to get better with me. I felt like he had to be with other coaches, see different systems, work in different places … instead of being in my shadow all the time.
« I’ve always felt that Kevvie wouldn’t get the Broncos head coach job if he didn’t go and get some experience first. »
Walters returned to the Broncos for Bennett’s second incarnation at the club in 2015, and the pair expanded Brisbane’s indictment for this year’s grand finale.
While the Broncos ultimately lost to the Cowboys in an extension epic, Walters was back at the Bennett Coalface. Watch out. Detect. Learn.
For all of the tactical analysis of the modern game, Walters says that Bennett’s strength is its simplicity. How he deals with players. Its basic messages. The word economy to explain concepts in one sentence that other coaches take six.
When Bennett trains in Redfern, he doesn’t bombard fullback superstar Latrell Mitchell with complex fixtures. He just says, « Hey Latrell, how is your family? »
« His relationship with his players is the best for me. He takes care of them. Knowing his players and knowing their personalities is his best strength.
« Wayne was a great coach, a very successful coach, but I don’t look up and see who I’m training against.
« It’s more about the players and making sure they’re well prepared for what lies ahead.
« I’ve had a great relationship with Wayne over time, but that won’t mean anything on Thursday night.
Because of their Red Hill ruins, it has been whispered that Bennett viewed Walters as a threat and not had his back when it really matters.
But the super trainer is bursting with suggestions that Walters doesn’t care about, and rates the Ipswich kid as one of the most authentic people he’s met.
« Our friendship has never been broken, » he said when Walters was appointed Broncos coach last year.
« Yes, we had our moments, there is no doubt about that. What happened in 2005 was not pleasant.
« We had some run-ins, but when the fan meets the fan, Kevvie was there for me and I was there for him.
« Kevin just has to be Kevin (as the Broncos head coach). The job at the Broncos can change you. It can put you under strange pressures that you don’t think will happen. But if Kevvie stays true to himself, will he’s fine. » That’s how he got the job.
« Sometimes you have to go somewhere else first to get back to where you want to be.
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