Wayne Bennett has been appointed as England’s new head coach on a two-year contract, the Rugby Football League has announced.
The most successful Australian rugby league coach in history signed off on the deal on Tuesday which will see him take charge of the England team through the 2016 Four Nations and the 2017 World Cup.
Bennett, who turned 66 on New Year’s Day, will succeed former Bradford boss Steve McNamara, whose contract ran out at the end of November’s Test series against New Zealand and is not being renewed.
“I am very excited by the challenge of taking England on to the next level,” said Bennett, who will be in England later this month with last year’s NRL runners-up Brisbane for the World Club Series.
“From what I have seen I have been impressed by the ambition and energy demonstrated by the team and I look forward to working with a group of players that I believe have what it takes to succeed on the international stage.”
Bennett, who will continue in his role as Brisbane boss, has twice coached Australia and was right-hand man to Stephen Kearney when New Zealand won the 2008 World Cup – as well leading teams to seven grand final victories.
Now he is set to go up against Kearney and Mal Meninga, the man who beat him to the current Kangaroos job, when England host the Four Nations Series in October and November.
“Wayne is quite rightly regarded as the outstanding coach of his generation and I am delighted that we have been able to secure his services,” RFL chief executive Nigel Wood said.
“This England team has made considerable progress over the last few years and we now possess truly world class players across all positions.
“These players deserve the very best support and coaching as we attempt to move from contenders into potential winners of international tournaments.
“I believe that Wayne Bennett is undoubtedly the right man to lead this group forward and enable them to do this”.
The appointment is guaranteed to divide opinion.
Former England captains Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield have already criticised the move, insisting that McNamara should have been re-appointed for the 2017 World Cup, while Australian legend Wally Lewis has voiced his disapproval, saying an Australian should not be coaching an England team.