Wayne Bennett has begun the rugby league mind games in earnest ahead of the Four Nations, according to someone who knows the supercoach better than most, Sam Thaiday.
Despite months of speculation he would select turncoat Australian players for his England side, coach Bennett did the opposite on Monday, when he picked only born-and-bred locals for his 24-man squad.
Bennett was named as England coach in February after missing out on the Australian job in December to Mal Meninga.
And Thaiday said he would have been planning the sometimes quirky ins and outs of his Four Nations campaign then.
“He is the best at those mind games – that is why he does it,” Thaiday told AAP on Wednesday.
“He probably had a vision in his mind of what he wanted to do from the start and he was probably throwing people off in saying that.
“I know he spent a bit of time over in England this year watching a few games and that is why he went with the team he picked and that whole picking of turncoat players was probably a throw off to get people off his back.”
The speculation upset some within the Australian camp, including skipper Cameron Smith, who expressed their concerns about Bennett’s possible motivation.
But Thaiday, playing NRL under Bennett at Brisbane, said it would have also been aimed at igniting passion within his England squad.
“I hope so,” he said
“Who knows what goes on in Wayne’s backwards mind? But that is probably another reason why he is doing it – to fire up and inspire those English boys – to first of all play well for their clubs so that he can pick them for the national team and then getting them playing well for England.
“Wayne will want to go over there and be successful. He is not going to want to take up the English job like he has and come home with his tail between his legs.
“He will be doing everything right now to make sure they are fighting fit and ready to go.”
Thaiday said Bennett’s selection policy was a good thing for international rugby league.
“If we want to grow our game and make our game even bigger, you need to keep your local stars local wherever they are, whether they are New Zealand players, English players or Australian players,” Thaiday said in Perth ahead of Saturday’s Test against New Zealand at nib Stadium.
“Wayne has gone down the right path there.”