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Rookie Robinson facing supercoach Bennett

Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett will sit back on Saturday and watch a team of his run out for the 685th time when the Knights take on the Sydney Roosters for a place in the NRL grand final.
Rookie Robinson facing supercoach Bennett
by AAP

By Ian McCullough

SYDNEY, Sept 27 AAP - Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett will sit back on Saturday and watch a team of his run out for the 685th time when the Knights take on the Sydney Roosters for a place in the NRL grand final.

Just 20 metres down the concourse in the opposite coaching box at Allianz Stadium will be Trent Robinson in the 27th game of his rookie season.

The 36-year-old, who was nine when Bennett made his coaching debut with Canberra in 1987, has won a host of admirers and tipped to be named Dally M coach of the year next Tuesday.

A gripping 4-0 win over Manly earlier this month gave the Roosters the luxury of an extra week off before the preliminary final, maintaining an impressive campaign that's already yielded the minor premiership.

But preparations were thrown into turmoil on Thursday following a newspaper report linking three members of their squad with performance-enhancing drugs.

Boyd Cordner, who's failed a fitness test on his injured ankle for this game, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Sam Moa aren't suspected of any wrongdoing, but Robinson admitted the story, which also revealed blood records of six players ended up on the mobile phone of an organised crime figure, were unsettling.

In contrast, the Knights' planning couldn't have been any smoother.

They arrived in Sydney in low-key fashion on Thursday evening and earlier this week Bennett was at his tight-lipped best with the media before mischievously blurting out there was no guarantee he'd see out the final two years of his contract.

It was vintage Bennett. Taking the spotlight off his team ahead of their biggest game since the 2001 grand final and creating a diversion he knew would hog the headlines.

Robinson was the polar opposite when he faced the media on Friday.

Articulate and urbane, the fluent French speaker with a degree in human science and a nose for fine wines, is very much the new age coach.

He impressively addressed the situation that's engulfed his club over the last 48 hours, admitting he'd only know if his players had been affected by a tumultuous week after the game.

Robinson was also effusive in his praise for Bennett and believes the Knights' shock win over Melbourne last week shows the seven-time premiership-winning mentor has his team primed at the most important time of the year.

"I have absolute respect for Wayne and all of us coaches have a great debt to the way he carries himself," he said.

"I've definitely taken a lot out of the way he's done things. But it's not about coaches, it's about how our 17 match up to their 17.

"I know what Wayne Bennett-coached sides do and they are an impressive team - but so are we.

"I think they've played their best games since Wayne's been there over the last two weeks."

All eyes will be on Sonny Bill Williams and Willie Mason after the former Roosters prop was poleaxed by a shoulder charge from his one-time Canterbury teammate in round 20.

It earned him a two-week suspension and left Mason with a fractured cheekbone - but Robinson is unconcerned about Williams' temperament.

"Sonny's competitive edge pushes him to the limit sometimes and obviously it went too far last time," he said.

"But he steps up on big occasions and we are looking for more of the same from him."


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