Off the Wall

Two games which could go either way is enough to ensure Friday and Saturday night set near record viewing numbers - and I hope crowds - but the story of the four coaches makes it all the more intriguing.

Between them Wayne Bennett, Tim Sheens, Brian Smith and John Cartwright have coached  teams in the NRL (previously the NSWRL) first division in well over 1,800 matches!

Bennett and Sheens have tallied up more than 600 games as coaches each, Smith is not far behind on more than 550, and Cartwright is almost a newcomer with just 100 games under his belt.

Only Bennett and Sheens have won NRL/NSWRL premierships. Bennett has six to his credit, Sheens has won four.

Brian Smith and Wayne Bennett have never been regarded as close, but this week Smith paid Bennett the ultimate compliment by proclaiming him the best coach in the history of the game in Australia.

This accolade is formally held by the late Jack Gibson, a sometimes mentor of Bennett, principally through a common friendship with Ron Massey, who was Gibson's offsider throughout his successful coaching career and has been Wayne Bennett's for much of his.

If Bennett can win the grand final with the Dragons, after having won six with the Broncos, then he can probably rightly be regarded as the best coach of them all - and you have to add to his club record his success at origin and national levels.

Because of his enormous regard for Gibson it is not a record he will readily claim.

On Saturday night he is up against a coach who has a very good record, and has coached in about as many games as Bennett. But there is one significant difference...even though they have coached over a similar game and time span, Bennett has taken teams to 20 finals series, Sheens just 10.

Now it will be argued that Bennett was born with a gold spoon in his mouth when it comes to coaching - he took over a star studded Broncos line up when it entered the competition. But his success simply cannot be denied - success in making the finals, and winning premierships.

The critics are hard on Brian Smith - over 550 games, not a premiership to speak of.

But there is one record he has a chance to grab on Saturday night - if the Roosters win he will be the first coach since 1934 to take a team that finished last in the previous season to a grand final. The magnitude of that achievement should not be overlooked.

To my mind the coach of the year really is the Titans John Cartwright. It is not a bad effort to take a new team to two finals series in its first four years in the competition.

I think the Titans are genuine premiership chances - and the fans seem to think so...in the first two days of tickets sales for Friday night's game show the fans believe so. More than 30,000 tickets have been sold - so a sell out is on the cards.

We have too interesting contests on the field - and intriguing contests in the coaches boxes as well.

This weekend should confirm the 2010 finals series as the best ever - and give us a grand final to top off a great year.

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