Some “selfish” NRL coaches need to start embracing the All Stars concept by making their star players available, Wayne Bennett says.
A spate of player withdrawals again fuelled debate over the All Stars match’s future ahead of Saturday night’s showcase event at Suncorp Stadium.
Five Indigenous players pulled out during the week while nine of the initial 20-strong World All Stars squad made themselves unavailable.
The Indigenous side lost another player, hooker Ray Thompson, to an ankle injury, at Friday training.
World All Stars coach Bennett dismissed any suggestion that the players did not support the concept.
But he couldn’t say the same for some NRL coaches.
“Only certain coaches – a lot have been co-operative and get right behind it – get a little protective and selfish,” Bennett said when quizzed on whether players should prioritise the event more following the withdrawals.
“We might have to tinker with that a little bit.
“But the players want to be here.
“If the players didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be here.
“They would rather be playing in front of 40,000 tomorrow night than some part of NSW country or wherever in a trial match no one has a great deal of interest in.”
NRL head of football Todd Greenberg sparked the renewed speculation when he revealed the All Stars’ place on the calendar was under review.
But Bennett said the NRL pre-season did not require any tinkering despite tipping one more NRL team to venture to the World Club Series in England next year.
North Queensland will battle Leeds in the headlining World Club Challenge while Sydney Roosters and Brisbane will contest the WCS against St Helens and Wigan respectively in England next weekend.
Bennett said it was up to the coaches to juggle the busy pre-season that features the NRL Auckland Nines, the All Stars, the WCS and a handful of trials before the official season kick-off in March.
“I think the pre-season is great, it’s wonderful,” he said.
“The Nines gave us plenty to write about, we have had a great week for the All Stars and three teams are off to England, maybe four next year – you can’t get much better than that.
“It gives the fans great value rather than playing trial matches that mean absolutely nothing.”
Last year’s All Stars game on the Gold Coast reportedly suffered a $500,000 loss, adding to speculation the NRL would weigh up its options when their two-game contract with the Queensland government to host the showcase event expired this year.
But Bennett said the All Stars’ success could only be measured in the long term.
He said it was the school visits and events such as the All Stars Youth Summit in the game’s lead-up that made the difference – not bums on seats.
“We won’t see the benefits of this for a long time but we know if we don’t do it then the future only gets worse for them – we have a responsibility,” Bennett said.