IT was always clear what the first item on the agenda would be for journalists at England coach Wayne Bennett’s latest media briefing: Dubai.
Whether they would actually get anything of note about the cancelled training trip was another matter entirely.
However, the often guarded Australian was more than forthcoming in Manchester, actually going as far to say it was his fault plans fell through and he had shown poor communication with Super League clubs, many of whom publicly criticised the worthiness of taking 17 players away in January just weeks before the new season.
That, of course, is what led to the RFL’s embarrassing and costly late U-turn – selected players had already been told they were going when it was axed just before Christmas with flight, hotels and training facilities booked some time before.
Bennett, in the UK for his Brisbane Broncos side’s Dacia World Club Series game against Warrington Wolves, spoke for the first time about the issue and admitted it was “disappointing.”
“We didn’t want the clubs to compromise what we were trying to achieve but we’ve made a decision not to proceed,” he said.
“It’s my fault; I should have communicated better and I take responsibility for that.
“But the staff here are working extremely hard with the clubs and I had a meeting with the coaches last night so we’re doing everything we can to improve communication. We were keen on it of course, but it’s a minor setback. It’s always tough on clubs. I’m in a competition in Australia which is governed very much by State of Origin in it which has a huge impact on all of us, particularly when multiple players can be selected from one club. And I’ll fight for my club on those issues. Obviously here some of the coaches felt there might have been a bit of grief that might be coming their way.
“We will continue to proceed with the in-season stuff, one day a week over a period of weeks throughout the season. It won’t be every week, but it has the co-operation of the clubs.”
Bennett did see his wish for a mid-year international against Samoa granted in Sydney on May 5 and persuaded clubs to release elite training squad members for those in-season sessions.
They will be taken by England assistants Paul Anderson and Paul Sculthorpe in the build-up to the end-of-season World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Bennett says he has also agreed not to take more than three players from any one Super League club for the 12,000-mile trip to Sydney in May.
“There’s a compromise co-operation which exists between England rugby league and the clubs and we’re all trying to make that work,” he said.
“There’ll be about a dozen who miss the following week’s fixtures in England because they’re playing in Australia, but the Samoa game is an important one as we want to start playing more Test matches together.
“All the other countries are doing it in mid-season so I thought it was important we were there and the players want to be a part of that, too.”
Bennett said it would be too simple to assume all NRL-based English players will be selected for that Samoa contest.
“We don’t want our second-best players just because some are based in Australia,” he said.
“We want our best side. We’re only taking 19, there are six or seven Australian-based players so we’ll take 12 or 13 from here.”
Some thought the Dubai stand-off could force Bennett – halfway through a two-year deal – to consider his own position but he insisted: “No, I didn’t. I just don’t want to let the players down. They’re such a good group of blokes and need all the support they can get – so me making a poor decision isn’t going to help them.
“When Dubai didn’t work, maybe clubs didn’t realise how much players give and they do need to support us as they do give a lot to their country.”