Greg Inglis is facing a tough decision on his career. Picture: AAP Image/Julian Smith
Greg Inglis is facing a tough decision on his career. Picture: AAP Image/Julian Smith

Bennett: I fear for Inglis’ future off the field

Wayne Bennett has spoken of his fears for Greg Inglis, saying he worries about his life after football amid concerns the Queensland champion is poised to walk away from the NRL.

Inglis will confront the biggest decision of his glittering rugby league career tomorrow when he formally meets with Bennett to inform the super coach whether he will soldier on this season or retire immediately.

After a week away with family, the Souths superstar reunited with Rabbitohs teammates on the Sunshine Coast for last night's clash against the Warriors ahead of his D-Day heart-to-heart with Bennett.

 

Greg Inglis was on the Sunshine Coast last night to watch the Bunnies in action. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Greg Inglis was on the Sunshine Coast last night to watch the Bunnies in action. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

 

The notion of Inglis dropping a retirement bombshell tomorrow seems incongruous, but Bennett admits his most vexing issue is not related to football but his captain's future and welfare.

The 32-year-old Inglis announced in January he would retire from the NRL when his contract expires in 2020, but knee and shoulder injuries could force the Maroons ace to pull the pin as early as tomorrow.

Asked if he can salvage Inglis' magnificent career in his twilight years, Bennett spoke candidly with The Sunday Mail.

 

Wayne Bennett has told Greg Inglis there’s more to life than footy. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images
Wayne Bennett has told Greg Inglis there’s more to life than footy. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

 

"To be honest, it's up to Greg now," Bennett said.

"You can do your bit, and I will help Greg where I can, but it all falls back to him.

"Nobody can give him those answers. I know I can't.

"If the fire isn't in the belly anymore or the body can't do what it used to do ... well that's the personal stuff Greg has to answer.

"I will sit down with Greg (tomorrow) and say simply, 'What are you doing mate?' Greg could easily bounce through the door and say, 'I'm ready to go coach'.

"I don't know what Greg will say when we meet. All the options are on the table at the moment. He is processing it all.

"I cannot predict what will happen."

Bennett's long-held mantra is that it is best for an ageing sporting champion to retire one year early than risk going one year too long.

He has given that advice to many great Broncos players, including Shane Webcke, Petero Civoniceva, Darren Lockyer, Corey Parker and Justin Hodges.

 

Allan Langer makes his emotional retirement announcement in 1999.
Allan Langer makes his emotional retirement announcement in 1999.

 

But the 69-year-old is not trying to squeeze Inglis out of Redfern.

Bennett still remembers the agony of Allan Langer's shock decision to retire just eight rounds into the 1999 season after the legendary Brisbane halfback endured the first bona fide form slump of his career.

Bennett doesn't want Inglis to please anyone at South Sydney but himself.

Wayne Bennett says Greg Inglis is in ‘a sad place’. Picture: AAP Image/Julian Smith
Wayne Bennett says Greg Inglis is in ‘a sad place’. Picture: AAP Image/Julian Smith

"All I want is for Greg to be happy," he said.

"Greg has given 16 wonderful years to this game. I have enormous respect for him.

"But most of us don't do sad well and he certainly doesn't do sad well. He is getting around sad and we're all trying to help him at Souths.

"He needs to make the decision that is going to take him out of that sad place.

"I genuinely care about Greg. I will tell Greg what I'm seeing and thinking. At the end of the day, it's his decision whether he plays on, that's a call I can't make.

"But it's important for Greg to know there are more important things in life than just the game.

"There is so much pressure on the champions because these guys are so great at what they do. There is so much pressure. They are so proud of their performances. They hate failure.

"For us battlers, failure is a part of our life.

"But for Greg, he is so good at what he does. When the great ones find it isn't working for them, it is a very tough time for them."

 

Greg Inglis came back from the off-season heavier than he should have been. Picture: AAP Image/Hamish Blair
Greg Inglis came back from the off-season heavier than he should have been. Picture: AAP Image/Hamish Blair

 

Alarm bells for Bennett began to ring when Inglis reported for pre-season training in January.

The skipper had been given 10 weeks' annual leave to cleanse the body and mind. Inglis embarked on an overseas holiday. Resting his body and staying off his feet to ease the strain on a knee injury had implications for his waistline.

It was reported Inglis' weight ballooned by 15kg, but Bennett insisted that figure was closer to 6kg. Either way, Inglis was not in optimum condition. Bennett's plans to deploy Inglis at fullback - after consulting his captain - had to be aborted.

It is understood Bennett subsequently called a meeting with Inglis. The pair spoke about the way forward.

Souths teammates had spoken among themselves about their concern for Inglis' fragile mental state. To them, he seemed dark and distant. They spoke of the importance of rallying to support him, mindful of his stint in rehab 18 months earlier.

 

Bennett and Inglis talk during the pre-season. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images
Bennett and Inglis talk during the pre-season. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

 

Inglis opened up to Bennett about the state of his body. His arthritic shoulder was giving him grief. Bennett sensed "GI" was at a crossroads. Last week, after Inglis contracted a bout of food poisoning eating a dodgy Chinese meal, Bennett urged him to take time out with a seven-day sabbatical relaxing with his kids.

Now Inglis is back in Camp Rabbitoh. Whatever he decides tomorrow, Bennett says it's important South Sydney - and the game itself - is there to provide support mechanisms for an NRL champion.

"If we don't look after Greg at Souths, what would he do? The game can't employ every former player," Bennett says.

"Greg is a classic case. He gets to this point in his life where he is scared. They all try to hang on. They have never worked in the workplace.

"You have to understand these guys are on big contracts. They aren't going to walk away from $1 million so easily. They don't have a clear career path.

"There's not much we can do with Greg's injuries. He has arthritis in his shoulder. It's years of wear and tear. He can't lift his arm above his head. He is trying to handle the pain and discomfort that comes with it.

"Whether Greg plays on I guess depends on how much discomfort he has and handling the pain that comes with it.

"Post-football Greg has no idea what he will do. They don't plan for this day (of retirement) ... that day is not in their diary."