How Wayne Bennett built the Dolphins

He was certainly aloof at a function at Palace Cinemas when he bypassed the blue carpet before taking his seat among the entire squad to watch the doco for the first time.

Dolphins chief executive Terry Reader signed off on the project before Bennett agreed in late 2021 to coach them, but instead of being a reluctant participant the media-averse coach is the star of the show.

Bennett addresses Dolphins players at training.Credit:Stan

If the seven-time premiership-winner is feeling the heat, it doesn’t show as he cracks jokes with photographers (“I forgot my wig”) and a XXXX executive about being the face of their zero alcohol products (“Benny beer”).

Documentary maker Nick Piper built Bennett’s trust over a long period, and when he did he was essentially a one-man show holding the camera, asking the questions — and hiding behind pot plants.

“The only way to do this was to become invisible and the only way to do that was with time,” Piper said. “Wayne demands trust and authenticity. There was a lot of time when I didn’t film, I was just present. You don’t get a line item in the budget ingratiating yourself in an environment. The only way to get to Wayne Bennett was become part of his inner circle.”


Piper was given an insight into just how difficult that can be on his first day.

Reader called to inform him that the Dolphins had signed Bennett and was about to hold a media conference. Piper raced to the club then convinced Bennett to wear a lapel microphone before, during and after, picking up nuggets of gold from the supercoach.

“I couldn’t believe my luck,” Piper said. “I drove home that night thinking, ‘I need to clear a gap on my shelf for a Logie’.”

The next day, Piper approached Bennett about putting on the microphone again.


“Your time’s up,” Bennett said before walking away.

Nevertheless, the documentary provides fascinating insight into the process of building a football club.

“We always wanted to tell our story,” Reader said. “We haven’t had a chance to enjoy what we’ve been doing. We’ve had 18 months to build this. I think people will be amazed what has gone into going from one staff member to 60 in a few months. It’s not sanitised – it’s real.”

It’s about to get very real.

Interest is certainly stirring in the Dolphins as their first NRL match, against the Roosters at Suncorp Stadium on March 5, draws closer.

Player manager Sam Ayoub meets with Bennett.

Player manager Sam Ayoub meets with Bennett.Credit:Stan

So many experts have written off their chances, so many people have lampooned their inability to land marquee signings, that expectations are low. Their heavy 46-16 loss to the Gold Coast on Sunday night in their final pre-season match only lowers the bar.

It’s exactly how Bennett wants it. “I’d rather that than the other way,” he said.

There are some spicy moments in the first episode, which is available on Stan from March 6 with the show over the two consecutive Monday evenings.


In one meeting, leading player manager Sam Ayoub, who represents five-eighth Anthony Milford, tells Bennett: “You just think every time a player talks to you, they have to be coming to you.”

In another scene, manager Jim Banaghan meets with his client, Jamayne Isaako, and Reader — but Bennett is a noticeable absentee.

Bennett has said before he refuses to deal with Banaghan after Justin Hodges left the Broncos in 2001 to play with the Roosters.

When Reader tells Banaghan the club has been watertight about new signings being leaked to the media, Banaghan says: “You’ve signed f—ing nobody, that’s why.”

The most intriguing scenes are around building the roster as Bennett and Reader work alongside recruitment guru Peter O’Sullivan.

Recruitment guru Peter O’Sullivan.

Recruitment guru Peter O’Sullivan.Credit:Stan

The club went after Brandon Smith, Cameron Munster, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Kalyn Ponga and rolled snake eyes but it’s clear the Dolphins are playing a long game.

“Minimising your mistakes is huge,” O’Sullivan says in one meeting. “You wear your mistakes for five, six years if you get it wrong.”


In another meeting, O’Sullivan and Bennett discuss the possibility of Ponga becoming the club’s five-eighth.

“I’m not confident of him playing five-eighth,” Bennett says.

“Wanting to play five-eighth or being good at it?” O’Sullivan asks.

“I don’t think he’d want to.”

Ponga rejected the Dolphins to stay at the Knights and will play in the No.6 jumper this season.

In another scene, Bennett’s eyes light up when O’Sullivan reveals the Storm trio of Jesse and Kenny Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi are coming off contract and available.

“There’s a forward pack,” Bennett oozes.

After signing Jesse Bromwich, 33, Bennett tells him via a Zoom meeting: “I won’t flog you. I just need you around the players with your leadership. I know what you bring, you know what I bring. There’s not much more you can do at Melbourne. I look forward to being your coach.”

After the call ends, Bennett looks at O’Sullivan and Reader and says: “He’s our captain.”

Who brings more than a satisfactory haircut.

The three-part Stan Original Documentary Series Dawn of the Dolphins premieres weekly from March 6, on Stan.

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