Something has changed in Wayne Bennett
WAYNE Bennett no longer acts like Wayne Bennett.
Bennett faces a significant challenge in his career, with the Broncos under-siege heading into Thursday's clash against the pesky South Sydney Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium.
After seven rounds of the NRL season, Brisbane sit 10th on the ladder with a 3-4 record.
They should be a top four team. That is what we have come to expect of the mighty Broncos.
A club with a $27 million home should not be mixing with the NRL's paupers.
But for a range of reasons, including a squad lacking depth in key positions and injuries to important players, the Broncos are in territory they have rarely been before.
Which makes Bennett more important than ever.
The coach with seven premierships next to his name, including all six of Brisbane's, has guided the Broncos through testing times before.
But things seem different this year, the penultimate season of the 68-year-old Bennett's current contract.
When under the pump, coaches follow a similar pattern. They start to overthink their task.
One of Bennett's many great assets has been his predictability and stability.
The players know what to expect. He rarely wanders from the simple tactics which have delivered him success for 40 years.
At the moment, Bennett is thinking far too deeply.
In Round 1, Bennett picked ageing prop Sam Thaiday to start at hooker ahead of Andrew McCullough, who was returning from a knee reconstruction.
A few days later, after the Broncos were thrashed 34-12 by St George Illawarra, Bennett admitted he made a mistake. Forgivable.
In Round 2, McCullough and Tevita Pangai Jr, Brisbane's most damaging front rower, started the match and the Broncos beat reigning grand finalists North Queensland.
They were fortunate to win a golden point thriller against Wests Tigers in Round 4 before suffering their first loss to the Gold Coast Titans at Suncorp Stadium in 11 years.
Before Brisbane's Round 5 game against Newcastle, Bennett guaranteed Kodi Nikorima and Anthony Milford would remain his halves for the year, no matter their form.
Nikorima missed Brisbane's Round 6 win against the Warriors with a corked thigh. When Bennett named his Round 7 team, Nikorima was on the bench.
His guarantee lasted one match.
In Brisbane's past two matches, a win against the Warriors and loss to Melbourne, Bennett has relegated Pangai Jr to the bench, a player who is surely better used in a starting position where he can make an impact before the game gets away.
The Broncos lost McCullough to an elbow injury midway through the second half of last Friday's loss to Melbourne and Bennett had a ready-made replacement in Nikorima to fill in at dummy-half.
Instead, he shifted Josh McGuire from lock to hooker, left Jack Bird at left centre after moving him from five-eighth and allowed Nikorima to remain in the halves alongside Milford, a combination which has struggled all season.
Bennett found a promising halves combination in Milford and Bird in the Warriors game, but shifted his star recruit after 45 minutes against the Storm in a move which Bird admitted shattered his confidence.
"I'm not sure why that was done," Broncos legend Steve Renouf said.
"Wayne has his way of doing things. (Bird was) one-and-a-half games into that position and you change …"
Renouf stopped mid-sentence, wary of questioning the coach which guided him to four premierships as a player.
I called Bennett on Tuesday to discuss a range of issues at the Broncos.
"I'm doing a press conference tomorrow," he said in the conversation that lasted 31 seconds.
It is the first time Bennett has flatly refused to talk to me.
Wayne seems like he is no longer Wayne.