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Master Wayne Bennett eyes historic NRL coaching feat

Love him or loathe him, Wayne Bennett is a win away from becoming rugby league's coaching GOAT - better than Bellamy, greater than Gibson.

Melbourne fans who marvel at Craig Bellamy or late great Jack Gibson may beg to differ.

But, statistically at least, if Bennett can plot a South Sydney victory over Bellamy's super Storm or Penrith in next Sunday night's title decider, the supposedly outgoing veteran will have accomplished a feat no coach in 113 years of ARL/NRL history has achieved.

And that is winning premierships with three different clubs.

Early 1900s legend Arthur Halloway coached Balmain and Eastern Suburbs to eight premierships and should be considered an Immortal having also snared seven titles as a player or captain-coach.

Gibson won five premierships with the Roosters and Parramatta, while Tim Sheens nabbed three in total with Canberra and Wests Tigers.

Chris Anderson, with Canterbury and Melbourne, Phil Gould (the Bulldogs and Penrith) and Jim Craig (Western Suburbs and Canterbury) are the only other coaches to take two different clubs to titles.

But now Bennett is entering his 10th grand-final week with a fourth different club.

"He's definitely got the Midas touch, that's for sure," Kevin Walters, a five-times grand-final winner under Bennett at Brisbane, told AAP.

In addition to winning six competitions at the Broncos, including the 1997 Super League crown, Bennett helped St George Illawarra break the Dragons' infamous 31-year premiership drought in 2010.

The 71-year-old also co-coached Canberra to the 1987 premiership decider and Brisbane to a golden-point grand-final loss to North Queensland in 2015.

Throw in five State of Origin series wins with Queensland, the most recent in 2020 after a 17-year hiatus from the interstate representative arena, and Bennett has a CV like no other.

"He's stayed so relevant," Walters said.

"So while he might be a little bit older than most of the other coaches, he's stayed with the times, stayed in touch."

A Bennett versus Bellamy grand final would be the ultimate climax to the veteran's "official" coaching career, amid speculation Bennett could take charge of one of the NRL's Queensland expansion clubs.

Off contract at the end of 2021 after guiding the Rabbitohs to the GF in his third year at Redfern, Bennett showed Bellamy the ropes at Brisbane before orchestrating the Broncos' upset 2006 grand-final victory over the Storm in a classic master versus apprentice triumph.

Since then, though, Bellamy has had Bennett's measure in coaching showdowns, improving his head-to-head dominance over his former mentor to 29-10 in head-to-head contests.

If Melbourne repeat their 2020 grand-final win over Penrith on Saturday, Bellamy will take the Storm to a - and his - ninth title decider.

And all this 35 years after playing under Bennett and Don Furner in the Raiders' grand-final loss to Manly.

So much symmetry and so much at stake - especially for Wayne James Bennett AM.

If it's Bennett versus Penrith and Ivan Cleary, the stakes are just as high.

Just different.

COACHES TO HAVE WON PREMIERSHIPS WITH AT LEAST TWO DIFFERENT ARL/NRL CLUBS:

2: Arthur Halloway (Balmain 1916, 1917, 1919, 1920; Eastern Suburbs 1935, 1936, 1937, 1945) - 8 premierships

2: Wayne Bennett (Brisbane 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2006; St George Illawarra 2010) - 7 premierships

2: Jack Gibson (Eastern Suburbs 1974, 1975; Parramatta 1981, 1982, 1983) - 5 premierships

2: Tim Sheens (Canberra 1990, 1991; Wests Tigers 2005) - 3 premierships

2: Chris Anderson (Canterbury 1995; Melbourne 1999) - 2 premierships

2: Phil Gould (Canterbury 1988; Penrith 1991) - 2 premierships

2: Jim Craig (Western Suburbs 1930; Canterbury 1938)