Bennett has a track record of making hard calls on club legends

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Anyone with an appreciation of Wayne Bennett’s history with older players knows he doesn’t expect many to improve in leaps and bounds in their 30s.

That’s worth keeping in mind now Rabbitohs favourite Adam Reynolds is in the midst of a contract wrangle at Redfern, with the club offering the 30-year-old just a one-year deal to continue his role as a playmaking general.

Wayne Bennett has made some tough calls on club greats in the past. Will it happen again with Adam Reynolds?Credit:Getty

Reynolds feels he deserves better from a club he helped steer to a premiership. He’s become a heart-and-soul player for the cardinal and myrtle and his deft boot has often been the difference between victory and defeat.

“We’ve started discussions, but we’re not on the same page – we’re pretty far apart in terms of what we’re thinking,” Reynolds said. “There’s a chance we won’t get on the same page.”

It’s natural for Reynolds to want to put a premium on this deal, or at least ensure it’s over as long a period as possible. It’s likely to be the last substantial one he makes in his career and security for his family would be foremost in his mind.

But Bennett has form when it comes to sentiment versus football sense, and though he’s handing the reins to assistant Jason Demetriou next year, you can assume the Skinny coach is passing on the wisdom accrued from all those years.

‘We’ve started discussions, but we’re not on the same page – we’re pretty far apart in terms of what we’re thinking.’

Bennett has pulled the trigger on club legends throughout his coaching career. If he feels the effectiveness of Reynolds could wane over a longer term, even if he won’t be on the scene, front office is unlikely to be swayed.

Bennett’s most famous recruitment and retention call involved Wally Lewis, the Broncos and Queensland legend who he stripped of the captaincy in 1989, moved to lock in 1990 and then farewelled him at the end of the season, when he joined the Gold Coast Seagulls.

He axed ‘The Axe’ in 1994, then told a host of big names, including Kerrod Walters, Michael Hancock, Willie Carne and Alan Cann, that they couldn’t be guaranteed top-grade spots for the 1997 season. Only Hancock dug in his heels; he collected another three premierships.

There is one obvious exception, that being the controversial four-year deal the Broncos handed to Darius Boyd, which proved to be a difficult salary cap obstacle as the club tumbled down the ladder and he struggled with form.

He retired with a year left to run on the lucrative extension. Bennett always maintained he was arm’s length from the contract and simply wanted to retain him, not tie him down long term.

Perhaps the blowback from that move is fresh in the mind of Bennett and Souths, who seem unlikely to give Reynolds that kind of surety at his age, although a two-year deal that would see the parties meet in the middle could prove palatable for both sides.

It comes down to the debate about whether club champions and loyal stalwarts should get to sign off on their own terms, or whether the team must make business moves with an eye to the future. Sometimes both can be possible – look at Cameron Smith and his Storm replacement Harry Grant – but usually someone is going to lose out.

Sir Alex Ferguson had a famous falling out with Manchester United superstar David Beckham, who left to join Real Madrid in 2013 instead of seeing out his time at the club he grew up idolising. Anyone who has seen The Last Dance (everyone in the AFL, apparently) knows the extended drama that surrounded the future of Chicago Bulls forward Scottie Pippen.

A right-hand man of Michael Jordan and all-time great in his own right, Pippen helped the Bulls secure a second three-peat in 1998 before he was traded to the Houston Rockets (for Roy Rogers and a second round pick. Rogers was waived after playing one game).

Clubs always need to future-proof their rosters, especially in a salary-capped competition. If they get the balance correct, the inevitable rebuild only results in the team taking a few steps down the ladder, not bottoming out completely. Reynolds may not be a perfect fit in those plans.

Of course, the sceptic might think Bennett was masterminding a one-year deal for Reynolds so he can pick him up should he take the reins at the new franchise in Brisbane. Wayne?

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