Despite a mixed reception in the UK, Mal Meninga says new England coach Wayne Bennett will receive “immediate respect” from players.
Bennett polarised opinion in the UK when he replaced homegrown coach Steve McNamara at the England helm, signing a two-year deal while juggling NRL club duties at Brisbane.
McNamara’s contract was not renewed despite leading England to a 2-1 series win over world No.1 New Zealand in late 2015.
It was England’s first series win in eight years.
Besides earning the ire of some English critics, Bennett is now also on a collision course with the man who pipped him for the Kangaroos job – Meninga – at the 2016 Four Nations and 2017 World Cup.
Meninga believed Bennett would feel the love once he arrived at the England camp.
“He will do a terrific job and he will get immediate respect walking through the English (team) door,” he told the Seven Network.
Bennett said there were no hard feelings with Meninga after losing out to his former charge on the Kangaroos job.
And Bennett said he did not want to waste time kicking cans over the ARL Commission’s decision to overlook him.
Instead of allowing Bennett to juggle NRL duties and appoint him for a third stint as Kangaroos coach, the ARL Commission signed Meninga on a lucrative full-time deal.
“I wanted to coach at another World Cup (but) they closed all the doors for the Australian job,” Bennett said.
“You can’t be an NRL coach and coach your country – that’s what it (ARL Commission’s decision) means – so I didn’t want to waste my time and beat myself up over that.
“I was fortunate enough to get a quality team like the English who are on the way up.”
Bennett said confidence gained from their growing NRL contingent was now rubbing off on England.
It convinced him to finally take up the England reins after revealing he had been approached on and off over the past six years.
“About 10 English players are in the Australian competition now,” he said.
“It’s a little bit like Origin 30-odd years ago when we brought the Queenslanders who were in NSW back to play for Queensland.
“That’s why their game is improving. They’re playing with the best and against the best.
“They don’t go into these games lacking any confidence as they may have done in the past.”
While the ARL Commission may not embrace a part-time national gig, Bennett said Brisbane powerbrokers certainly did.
“They (Brisbane board) just saw upside in it for the game,” he said.
“It doesn’t impact on the Broncos because it’s off-season.
“(Broncos assistant) Steve Kearney’s with the (world champion) New Zealand team …and we’ve all seen how that works.
“This will work well without impacting on the Broncos.”