Widdop’s biggest worry not on the park
WAYNE Bennett is the man the Dragons fear with Test star Gareth Widdop warning the code's greatest coach has instilled the belief for Brisbane to stage a premiership heist.
Struggling St George Illawarra must not only combat the resurgent Broncos but the formidable record of seven-time premiership king Bennett in Sunday's sudden-death final at Suncorp Stadium.
Brisbane run onto Suncorp steeled by the knowledge they possess an off-field trump card in the unrivalled playoffs portfolio of the code's greatest coach.
The Broncos must embark on a rare surge to win a fairytale premiership, needing to win four consecutive knockout games to claim their first title since 2006 and break a 12-year drought.
It is the NRL's equivalent of conquering Everest, but Bennett has done it before.
In 1993, Bennett's Broncos defied the odds, winning four straight finals games from fifth spot to clinch the premiership, ironically beating Brisbane's opponents, the Dragons, in the grand final.
Bennett also masterminded Brisbane's magical title charge in 2006, when they stunned Melbourne in the decider despite losing in the opening week of the finals - against the Dragons.
Dragons ace Widdop has experienced Bennett's big-game mastery from close range. He was a member of the England squad which Bennett coached to last year's World Cup final against Australia and says the 68-year-old's calmness under pressure is the ace up Brisbane's sleeve.
"If you are coached by him, you definitely believe in Wayne," said Widdop, who returns from injury for the elimination final at Suncorp.
"He has done everything at the highest level and he's had a lot of success, so as a player you believe in him.
"In the big games he is very simple with his approach, but we do play a simple game. That's what makes Wayne a very good coach."
No other NRL coach can boast Bennett's longevity in the finals arena.
Sunday's clash at Suncorp will be Bennett's 65th finals match. He has qualified for 26 finals campaigns, having won 33 of 64 playoff matches for a 51 per cent strike rate, including seven of nine victories in grand finals.
By contrast, Bennett's coaching opponent today, Paul McGregor, has one finals match for one defeat - an 11-10 loss to Canterbury in 2015.
Melbourne super coach Craig Bellamy is the code's second most experienced finals mentor with his 36th game in Friday night's epic 29-28 defeat of South Sydney.
Former Broncos skipper Darren Lockyer, who engineered Brisbane's famous 2006 premiership win, says Bennett's great skill is his ability to reduce levels of stress and anxiety.
"Wayne is a huge factor in this final series," Lockyer said.
"As a player, especially the inexperienced ones, it is easy to get caught up in the pressure of playoffs football.
"Wayne is the best at handling big occasions. Winning finals is about the mind as well and Wayne's calmness relaxes the entire team.
"He knows the hard work is done. He just makes you believe you can win."
Broncos prop Joe Ofahengaue said Bennett has privately addressed the group on what it will take to pull off an unlikely premiership.
"The way he approaches it is really short and sharp in the meetings," he said.
"Wayne has really driven into us that the only way we can really do this is if we believe we've got a team.
"If we believe we can do it then hopefully we can do something special in the finals."
Broncos skipper Darius Boyd added: "The finals are when the big dogs come out. Wayne loves this time of year … I'm glad we've got on him on our side."