Wayne Bennett’s lover has hit back at claims of an ugly family rift, just days after lashing out at the NRL coaching legend’s estranged family.
Bennett, 70, was slammed by his son-in-law and former NRL player-turned-commentator Ben Ikin on Fox Sports last week after he was fined for breaching the code’s strict COVID-19 biosecurity protocols by dining at upmarket Sydney Italian restaurant, Grappa, on Wednesday night.
Bennett’s partner of four years Dale Cage, 54, sparked a media storm after she took a swipe at Ikin in a scathing social media post on Saturday.
‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones #justsaying. The truth will hurt some people #staytuned #benikin,’ she posted on Instagram.
‘The self-righteous scream judgement against other to hide the skeletons dancing in their own closets,’ she added, before switching her account to private.
However, speaking to Daily Mail Australia, Ms Cage attempted to play down her Instagram post.
‘There’s no situation,’ Ms Cage said when asked about her feud with Bennett’s estranged son-in-law Ikin, who’s married to Bennett’s daughter Elizabeth.
‘I have no comment to make,’ she added, refusing to reveal whether she regretted the social media spray that went to the heart of their strained relationship.
Fox Sports star Ikin was also reluctant to get caught up in the saga.
‘I would rather not comment, but thanks for getting in touch anyway,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
It’s unknown what prompted Cage’s attack on Ikin, although a clue might be found in an interview she gave in 2018.
Denying reports that she and Bennett had split up, she told a reporter at the time: ‘We know where the rumours are coming from’.
Bennett walked out on his wife of 42 years Trish and their two adult disabled children to start a relationship with Ms Cage, 16 years his junior, in 2016.
Relations between Ikin and his father-in-law soured after he and his wife, who have four children, sided with the heartbroken wife Bennett left behind.
Mother-of-three Cage was working as a secretary at a performance physiotherapy clinic when she crossed paths with Bennett during his coaching stint at the Newcastle Knights.
At the time, the notoriously private Bennett revealed he was no longer living in the family home and hadn’t for ‘some time’ and requested the media respect his ‘personal privacy’ and that of his family.
Ms Cage left her partner of more than 20 years to be with Bennett, moving from Newcastle to Brisbane before following him to Sydney in early 2019 after he signed with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Ikin appeared to put the ugly feud behind him on Tuesday as he applied to be the next chief executive of the Brisbane Broncos.
Long-time Broncos boss Paul White will depart at the end of what’s shaping up to be a horror season.
The Fox Sports’ NRL 360 host is already being tipped as a frontrunner for the role, having served on the North Queensland Cowboys board that appointed successful coach Paul Green, who steered the side to their maiden premiership in 2015.
Bennett, who won six premierships with the Broncos and one with the Dragons in 2010, was contacted for comment.
For four decades Wayne Bennett did his utmost to stay under the radar. It took an eggplant parmigiana to drag him into the spotlight and expose bitter in-fighting within his family.
Rugby league’s most successful coach has made an art-form of keeping his cards close to his chest over the years, earning comparisons to Clint Eastwood and Marcel Marceau.
As coach of the Broncos, Dragons, Knights, Rabbitohs, Queensland, Australia and England, his post-match press conferences have had all the colour and movement of an Easter Island statue.
It took an extraordinary edition of the ABC’s Australian Story in 1999 to show another side to the taciturn coach, as a loving husband to wife Trish and doting father to their three children Justin, Katherine and Elizabeth.
The program revealed how big a part Trish played in Bennett’s coaching success and how successfully they had pulled together when Justin suffered brain damage as a baby and Katherine was born with physical disabilities.
Overnight the newly anointed Queensland Father of the Year became a revered public figure but almost as quickly he pulled the shutters back down.
Questions about his football team were hard enough to get answered – he once snuck out a back door at Brisbane Airport rather than face journalists after returning from a Kangaroo tour – but anything about his private life was strictly off-limits.
A journalist calling the Bennett home in the hope of interviewing Trish about the contentious issue of infant vaccination got no further than explaining the reason for her call to Wayne.
‘Not interested,’ was all she heard before the line went dead in her ear.
His two favourite responses to reporters have always been, ‘Why should I tell you?’ and ‘I’m not going there.’
His players, while full of respect, were also intimidated by his gruff nature.
Former Bronco Ben Ikin, who would become the coach’s son-in-law when he married Elizabeth in 2003, once noted, ‘You want to know what fear is? Try telling Wayne Bennett you’ve impregnated his daughter.’
Bennett’s squeaky-clean image and on-field success made him arguably the most powerful man in rugby league which, not surprisingly, didn’t please everyone in the game. Officials at rival clubs referred to him as ‘The White Knight’ behind his back and over the years his once close relationships with leading players, including Wally Lewis, Gorden Tallis and Darren Lockyer, have at times broken down.
In 2007, Broncos players who had been encouraged by Bennett to turn down big money offers from other clubs were said to be furious when it was revealed that he had been receiving six-figure payments from billionaire mining magnate and Broncos supporter Ken Talbot for several years.
Talbot said the money had been to help Bennett ensure the future of his disabled children, and Broncos’ officials claimed they had been aware of the payments, but it was to be the first crack in the impeccable public image of the so-called Supercoach.
A crack that would widen to Grand Canyon proportions in 2016 when Bennett, then 66, confirmed he was leaving Trish after 42 years of marriage to be with attractive 50-year-old Dale Cage, who he met while coaching in Newcastle.
Bennett asked that the media respect his family’s privacy at the time and such is his aura that largely they did, although it was common knowledge that Ben and Beth Ikin were furious and sided 100 per cent with the devastated Trish Bennett.
Bennett’s detractors also took advantage of the upheaval in his personal life, rival coach Nathan Brown accusing him of ‘thinking with his little head instead of his big head’.
Outwardly Bennett seemed to be handling the pressure well. Observers who spotted him out with Dale remarked how happy and relaxed he appeared.
The only thing that seemed to upset him was the manner of his departure from the Broncos when he was sacked at the end of the 2018 season and replaced with Souths’ Anthony Seibold.
Ikin, too, did his best to keep any tension well hidden. Now a well-regarded media personality, he regularly spoke respectfully and even warmly about Bennett on his NRL 360 TV show.
A delicate truce between all warring parties appeared to be working.
Until last week anyway when, like so many others, The White Knight was brought crashing to earth by the coronavirus pandemic.
When Bennett and Dale were spotted dining at renowned Sydney Italian restaurant Grappa in direct contravention of the strict bio-security protocols put in place by the NRL’s Project Apollo committee – of which Bennett was a member – the outcry was deafening.
A furious NRL chairman Peter V’Landys rejected Bennett’s claim that he had been confused about the social distancing restrictions and fined him $20,000 on top of an automatic 14-day quarantine.
Ikin, in his role as a media commentator, labelled his estranged father-in-law’s excuses ‘a bit arrogant’ and said he should have simply ‘fessed up’ to struggling with the COVID restrictions and knowingly breaking the rules.
Which is where it would have probably ended, if Dale Cage had not taken to Instagram to launch an astonishingly bitter attack on her partner’s son-in-law.
Referring to ‘self-righteous scream judgement against other(s) to hide the skeletons dancing in their own closets’, she posted the cryptic message that, ‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones #justsaying. The truth will hurt some people #staytuned #benikin’.
It is unknown what prompted the attack although a clue might be found in an interview she gave in 2018.
Denying reports that she and Bennett had split up, she told a reporter at the time: ‘we know where the rumours are coming from’.
One thing that is almost certain is that the notoriously private Bennett would not have been happy about the post.
Within a short time Dale Cage’s public-access Instagram account had been changed to ‘private’ which – if she had been unaware the post would reach such a wide audience – has a certain irony of its own. Bennett’s lack of IT skills has long been a subject of amusement amongst his friends and colleagues.
As recently as last Friday Souths’ assistant coach Jason Demitriou, filling-in during his boss’s enforced absence, had joked with reporters that any texts sent to Bennett by the players would take a long time be to be acknowledged ‘because with Wayne’s grasp of technology Dale has to show him how to do it’.
And there is another certainty as well. On Tuesday Ben Ikin applied for the soon-to-be-vacant role of Brisbane Broncos CEO.
Should he get the coveted job – and many believe he will – you can bet your house on this: The White Knight will never coach the Broncos again.