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Bennett's master plan now NRL finals force

Heavily criticised for assembling a Dad's Army, Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett is having the last laugh as his veterans bring his grand plan to fruition in the NRL finals.
Bennett's master plan now NRL finals force
by AAP

By Steve Jancetic

SYDNEY, Sept 17 AAP - Heavily criticised for assembling a Dad's Army, Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett is having the last laugh as his veterans bring his grand plan to fruition in the NRL finals.

Former skipper Danny Buderus, one of a host of 30-somethings brought to the club by Bennett, says the Knights' progress to Saturday night's semi-final against reigning premiers Melbourne is the culmination of 18 months of preparation.

During that period, seven-times premiership coach Bennett has transformed the Knights, with the likes of Buderus, Jeremy Smith, Willie Mason, Beau Scott, Neville Costigan, David Fa'alogo, Craig Gower and Timana Tahu all recruited to add experience and steel to a youthful squad.

Of that group, all except for Costigan, 28, and Scott, 29, are over the age of 32.

All bar Fa'alogo are premiership winners - as is an earlier Bennett recruit, fullback Darius Boyd - and all bar Tahu are set to play against the Storm at AAMI Park.

"Wayne got criticised a lot for that mid-year," said Buderus of Bennett's recruitment strategy.

"We were called old, grandpa, Dad's Army - we got called everything.

"That's the thing with Wayne: he knows what he has to do to win, he's got belief in what he has to do and he instils that in the players.

"There's a lot of players that have played in some big games - that's what all that experience is for.

"Eighteen months it's taken to get to a point like this. He's just a master at it.

"The boys can't wait to play for him."

The 22-6 upset of 2012 grand finalists Canterbury in Sunday's elimination final may have surprised many but within the Knights squad confidence was always high.

They lost only three of their past 10 games of the regular season - one to the Storm, the other to minor premiers Sydney Roosters and the third to then-red hot North Queensland in Townsville in round 24.

Buderus said it didn't go unnoticed within the playing group that the club was largely ignored in the lead-up to last week's opening round of the finals - even, according to the former NSW Origin and Test hooker, by the NRL administration.

"No-one's giving us a chance. We didn't even feature in the ads," Buderus said.

"It's been great. That's what we're about in Newcastle, being the underdogs.

"Hopefully they don't keep talking about us. We just talk amongst ourselves, believe in what we do.

"We've got a coach who has obviously instilled a lot of faith in us and we've been building towards this for 18 months.

"Another step in the right direction."


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