Has Bennetts time run out ?

Wayne Bennett,Australian's longest serving and most successful coach has opened up debate about his long term future by sacking his high profile assistants.

Kevin Walters, Glenn Lazarus and Gary Belcher - all big names in their own right as players - were shown the door last Friday as Bennett responded to another poor finish to the season by the Broncos.

From being near certainties for the minor premiership, the Broncos lost form towards the end of the home and away campaign and bowed out with losses in the finals to Melbourne and ultimate premiers the West Tigers.

Injuries didn't help Brisbane's cause at the business end of the 2005 competition but the losses meant the Broncos had only won one finals match out of eight since winning their last title under the captaincy of Walters in 2000.

The Broncos have appointed former Canberra halfback Ivan Henjak, ex-Broncos and ACT Brumbies back rower Peter Ryan and former Queensland halfback Paul Green as Bennett's new assistants.

The biggest shake up at the club since Bennett removed the legendary Wally Lewis from the captaincy in 1990 was handled sloppily by the Broncos.

They issued a news release saying Walters had resigned, Belcher "would be leaving" and that Lazarus would be replaced. There was no mention of sackings yet all three later confirmed they were axed.

Despite the massive implications of the decision for the club and the debate it has generated, the typically taciturn Bennett has refused to publicly discuss it while he this week prepares Australia for Saturday's Tri-Nations test against New Zealand.

Bennett has been coach of the Broncos since the club's inception in 1988 and next year is set to pass 500 premiership matches in charge.

He boasts five premierships and a 65 per cent winning record.

Add to that five series wins as Queensland State of Origin coach plus Australia's Tri-Nations triumph last year and you have a coaching resume unsurpassed in Australasian rugby league.

Only one top-level football club, boasting a quarter of a century in command of the Bombers with four premierships to his credit.

Bennett has no interest in winning popularity contests and his tough decision regarding Walters, Lazarus and Belcher has provided plenty of ammunition for critics.

"The buck stops with Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett?

Wrong! The buck stops with everyone but Bennett," said one correspondent to the Brisbane Courier Mail newspaper.

A fan on the Broncos' website forum described Bennett as a "protected species".

Former Brisbane test centre Steve Renouf believes Bennett's decision to axe his assistants has upped the ante on his own performance in 2006.

"He's certainly put himself in the position of being a real target next season if things don't improve," Renouf said.

Broncos insiders believe the situation now is similar to 1990 when the decision to strip Lewis of the captaincy had fans calling for Bennett's head.

The Broncos board backed the coach and two years later the club clinched its first premiership.

Only a fool would under-estimate Bennett's ability to rebound despite detractors suggesting he may have reached his use by date.

During the acclaimed 1999 ABC Australian Story program on Bennett, the Broncos were in the midst of another losing streak.

"My life has been adversity but from each disaster I've come back stronger," Bennett told the program.

"I know I'll come out the other side of it and I know they'll come out with me. It's just a matter of when and we'll be better for it. We'll be stronger people. We'll appreciate winning more than we ever have in the past."

A year later the Broncos were premiers again.

With the Cowboys emerging as the new force in rugby league in Queensland and another Gold Coast team providing competition from 2007, the Broncos are facing some of their biggest challenges since they were launched almost two decades ago.

Brisbane supporters will be hoping Bennett still has the answers.