AP – England’s rugby league chief Nigel Wood has defended Wayne Bennett’s appointment as national team coach, saying the country’s exciting group of players deserve the best chance to succeed.
The choice of Bennett, the most successful coach in the Australian game, brought criticism from two prominent Super League coaches, Keiron Cunningham (St Helens) and Daryl Powell (Castleford), both former Great Britain internationals, who argued the job should have gone to Leeds’ treble-winning boss Brian McDermott.
But Woods had no doubt they got the right man.
“We concluded that England’s chances of success would be enhanced if we asked Wayne to take the role,” he said.
“Wayne is the pre-eminent coach of the modern, possibly any era. He has a proven track record at club and representative level and is a sincere internationalist.
“The current group of players is an exciting proposition and they deserve the best in class coaching support to maximise the opportunity to succeed on behalf of the country.”
Bennett, who will combine the part-time role with his full-time job at NRL club Brisbane as he fulfils a two-year contract that takes in this year’s Four Nations Series and the 2017 World Cup.
Four Nations success has eluded England team and it is nearly 44 years since their last major triumph, the 1972 World Cup.
Wood said Bennett’s support staff will most likely be drawn from Super League.
“Wayne’s nationality is a non-issue for me,” Wood said. “It’s actually about competence, ability and desire to succeed and I have no question marks on any front.
“We do, however, recognise that the coaching support group should ideally be populated by coaches from the Super League and this is what we will be seeking to achieve. Ultimately it is of course Wayne’s call.”
Bennett was due to arrive in England 48 hours after the bulk of his Brisbane squad – having been involved in Saturday’s NRL All Stars game – and will finalise his team’s preparations for the 2016 World Club Series.
Brisbane take on Wigan at the DW Stadium on Saturday night, a match sandwiched between Sydney Roosters’ clash with St Helens at Langtree Park and next Sunday’s World Club Challenge between Leeds and North Queensland at Headingley.
The series will give Bennett a chance to sound out potential assistant coaches and also cast his eye over England candidates ahead of the Four Nations at the end of the year.
“The next week is an incredibly exciting time for rugby league fans in this country with the best three teams in the NRL taking on three of the best in the Super League in the World Club Series,” Wood added.
“Wayne will have the chance to witness first-hand some of the best talent available to him when Brisbane take on Wigan on Saturday night and I am sure all of the English players playing this weekend will be aiming to impress the new coach.
“The coming years will undoubtedly be an exciting and important time for international rugby league with the Four Nations this year and the World Cup only 20 months or so away.
“We have got a great group of players and now the undisputed best coach. I am sure that is a combination everyone can get behind.”