ENGLAND head coach Wayne Bennett maintained he is “not thinking about Australia very much” as his mind games with Kangaroos chief Mal Meninga continued.
However, inevitably, he will soon have to make his fellow countrymen the centre of his attention as England must beat the world champions to stand any chance of reaching the Ladbrokes Four Nations final on November 20.
Saturday’s agonising opening 17-16 defeat against holders New Zealand has cranked up the pressure and, given they have had no success over Australia since a Great Britain 2006 Tri-Nations win, the odds are stacked against them qualifying. Bennett – whose side must defeat Scotland in Coventry on Saturday, then Australia in London, and keep an eye on points difference – would not be drawn on questions about Meninga’s stinging newspaper column.
“I spoke to him Monday and he didn’t have a problem,” he said, the Kangaroos chief claiming his rival is trying to “undermine” him and wants his job. “He never said a word to me then. If he wants to talk to me personally I will.
“You’ve got to understand I’m not thinking about Australia very much. They can say what they want, do what they want, it won’t faze me. I’m here with England enjoying what I’m doing.”
There did not appear much to enjoy as England fell to Shaun Johnson’s 65th-minute drop goal, another near-miss defeat.
But the veteran coach, in only his second game in charge, insisted: “Everything was there but the smarts. I’m disappointed with the result but not the effort. England have got a history of not winning close games and we’ve got to learn how to do it.
“But I thought we were outstanding. It was a quality game of football and we participated right to the death. We’re on a journey; it was never going to be a quick fix.”
Sam Burgess, in his first game as captain, added: “We certainly gifted a few things and made the game hard for ourselves. But the character we showed to defend certainly gives us belief moving forward in this competition.”