Wayne Bennett thought he would get away with it. The former rugby league player and famed coach thought no one would notice him dining out at a restaurant in Sydney. Then he smiled. Patrons were shocked, the press was alerted and Bennett was found guilty of breaching the NRL’s biosecurity measures. As a result, the South Sydney Rabbitohs coach was punished by the NRL and nominated for The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame.
Bennett played a number of games for Australia and Queensland and is one of the most successful and famous coaches in the history of rugby league. He is just as well known for his reluctance to smile, even when his team wins.
The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. NRL player Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015, while NRL player Ben Barba is the most recent recipient.
The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame honours former players and players who received media attention in previous seasons, for similarly scandalous behaviour, and its inductees include Ben Cousins and Julian O’Neill.
Patrons at the restaurant in Leichhardt said they didn’t notice Bennett throughout the main course, and claim that after he finished the first glass of red and was receiving his dessert the grin started to appear on his face. His cover was blown and everyone in attendance could see that it was the famously unemotional NRL coach who was sharing a meal with them.
Bennett must stay away from his players and Rabbitohs staff for two weeks in line with the NRL’s COVID-19 rules, which means that and players and fans will miss his cheery demeanour.