Wayne Bennett, the coach of the Dolphins rugby league team, has found himself under scrutiny and criticism after his contentious post-match press conference following the team’s loss to the Knights in Perth. Despite the loss, the Knights were able to secure a spot in the top eight for the first time since Round 6 with a 30-28 victory. Jamayne Isaako‘s first-half hat-trick put the Dolphins in an early lead, but Kalyn Ponga‘s exceptional performance turned the tide and gave the Knights a commanding lead late in the game.
In a crucial moment of the match, Dolphins second-rower Connelly Lemuelu crossed the try line in the 73rd minute, narrowing the margin to just two points. With just three minutes remaining, the Dolphins had a scrum opportunity near the Knights‘ line which could have potentially led to a comeback victory. However, Herman Ese’ese‘s ill-advised decision to hold onto an opponent’s jersey after the ball had left the area resulted in a penalty, effectively ending the Dolphins‘ chances of a last-minute victory.
During the subsequent press conference, Wayne Bennett appeared dejected and unwilling to discuss the penalty call in detail. When asked about the areas that let his team down during the match, Bennett grew increasingly testy, suggesting that those in attendance should write about it themselves. When pressed for his opinion once again, Bennett simply stated that he had no desire to share it. The conference lasted just over two minutes, with Bennett displaying contempt towards the sole journalist present, Justin Chadwick from AAP.
Veteran rugby league reporter Phil Rothfield criticised Bennett’s post-match performance, expressing his disappointment in how it reflected poorly on the game, particularly when considering Perth’s efforts to grow its rugby league fanbase. Rothfield recognised Bennett’s contributions to the sport and praised his achievements with the Dolphins. However, he strongly believed that as the NRL invests significant resources into promoting the game in Perth, it was essential for coaches like Bennett to engage properly with the media and help spread the word about the sport.
Rothfield emphasised that Bennett’s dismissive behavior during the press conference was disrespectful not only to the journalist in attendance but also to the Perth audience and the NRL‘s efforts to expand the game’s footprint. He acknowledged that Bennett occasionally exhibits such behavior but emphasised that this particular instance was an unfortunate and unnecessary display of pettiness, which ultimately presented a negative image of rugby league.
Gerard Middleton, co-host of the Big Sports Breakfast, joined Rothfield in expressing disappointment with Bennett’s conduct, labeling it as “rubbish.” Middleton criticised Bennett for his defensive response to a legitimate and open-ended question, arguing that it was petty to deflect the question back onto the journalist instead of engaging in a meaningful discussion about the match.
Bennett’s actions and responses during the press conference have triggered scrutiny and raised concerns about his behavior and its impact on the perception of the game. As a highly respected and influential figure in rugby league, it is crucial for Bennett to lead by example and represent the sport in a positive light, especially during important events like the match in Perth.