Wayne Bennett wouldn’t have signed as coach of the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2009 if he’d caught sight of the club’s then underwhelming training facility, but what happened next is one reason why he’s hailed outgoing club CEO Peter Doust as one of the best administrators he’s worked alongside.
“I loved working with Peter because he was decisive and everything he told me he would do, he did,” Bennett told NRL.com.
“And if he couldn’t do it to the ultimate perfection he gave it as much as he could. I remember when I first went down there I told him that I wouldn’t have signed with the club if I’d seen their training facility.
“He promised me that he’d do something about that and fix it up, which he did to his credit.
“We got a better training facility. It wasn’t world class but it was good and workable.”
In the wake of Doust’s announcement that he will stand down at the end of 2018 after 18 years at the helm of the joint venture, Bennett has outlined why his partnership with the Dragons boss prospered during his three-year stint.
Doust has been a regular target of angry supporters when the club has failed to live up to expectations, but Bennett said the CEO had secured better facilities for the club, been at the helm for a drought-breaking premiership in 2010 and played more of a key role in keeping and securing stars than was widely known.
“I don’t think he ever got enough credit for what he did at Kogarah and Wollongong with regards to improving those grounds,” Bennett said.
“He got a lot of government money and did a great job.
“Kogarah is a magnificent football ground and always has been, but in my opinion among those suburban grounds in Sydney it is number one.”
Bennett told NRL.com of the agreement he struck with Doust about how things were going to work, with neither party interfering in the other’s jurisdiction.
Doust was master of his administration domain in Kogarah, with Bennett to run his own race and the football team down the road in Wollongong.
“I had a great relationship with him. He is one of the best I’ve worked with, and I don’t think we had a bad word between each other,” Bennett said.
“I got a bit of background stuff not long after I took the job that he liked to come down and put his fingerprints around the place, but that was the last thing I wanted.
“So I told him when I got the job ‘here’s the deal. You just stay at Kogarah. I’ll look after Wollongong… and I’ll ring you every Monday.’ He had a chuckle, and that’s how it panned out. He was great.”
Bennett chuckled and said Doust “never had to come down once” to training, but then added they did have a rendezvous “four or five times” at a favourite seafood joint in the Steel City.
“It was a great restaurant,” he quipped.
Premiership mission accomplished, Bennett left the Dragons in 2012 did not go back to join Doust after his three-year stint at the Newcastle Knights. The lure of the Broncos brought him home just when it appeared the Dragons CEO was on the cusp of another stunning coup.
Looking back, Bennett conceded Doust did his level best to prevent him leaving the Dragons in the first place.
The Rabbitohs, Broncos and Knights were among the clubs in the hunt with the Knights ultimately prevailing, but Bennett told NRL.com that Doust had put the best offer on the table of the lot.
“It was a great three years I had there at the Dragons and of all the offers I had when I left, Peter Doust made me the best offer to stay there,” he said.
“He got criticised for not keeping me but he should never have got criticised for that, because it was purely my decision.
“We’d done such a good job there and it was such a good time there that I just thought ‘these things usually end in tears. I just want to get out now while I’m in front’. I had other offers to go other places, but my point is that Peter made me the best offer to keep me there and did everything he possibly could.”
Bennett pointed to Doust’s rich red and white heritage as being a driver in his life. Doust’s father Laurie was a legendary director, selector and recruiter who brought Johnny Raper, Billy Smith and Graeme Langlands to the club.
Peter Doust brought Bennett to the club, and the only title since 1979 followed and a burden was lifted.
That’s why Bennett was delighted for Doust “and guys like [former football manager] Craig Young” after the 2010 premiership because they had “carried that weight of responsibility on their shoulders and in their hearts”.
“He got far too much criticism and never enough praise for what he did as far as I am concerned, and he did what no-one else had done in 31 years when he was chief executive for the 2010 premiership.”
“Peter worked really hard to get and keep key players for me. No-one appreciates how hard that it is to do, and Mark Gasnier is a classic example of that.
“He left because of situations there he wasn’t happy with, but he came back because of guys like Peter Doust.”