WAYNE BENNETT started his reign as England’s new head coach by saying it is no surprise they have been starved of success for so long as they have had the “wrong people” in charge.
The esteemed Australian, rated the greatest coach of his generation, excluded Steve McNamara from that withering assessment, insisting the man he replaced last month has done a “good job” to lay the platform for his two-years in charge.
Former Bradford Bulls boss McNamara did not see his six-year reign extended despite securing his first series win, against New Zealand last autumn.
The Rugby Football League have instead turned to Bennett, the Brisbane Broncos coach who has won seven Premiership titles and led Queensland, Australia and was the Kiwi No 2 when they won the 2008 World Cup.
Not since Great Britain in 1972 has a team from these shores lifted a World Cup themselves, a major tournament or even defeated Australia in a Test series.
Sixty-six-year-old Bennett, here for Brisbane’s World Club Series game at Wigan on Saturday, is seen as the man to end that drought either at the Four Nations this autumn or the 2017 World Cup Down Under.
“It’d be huge to win a World Cup, huge for the game and the country – but everyone’s talking about that and there’s a lot to do before then,” he said.
“It’d lift the profile enormously and hopefully me coming here will lift the profile too, whether we win or not.
“(But) I’m not really surprised they haven’t won a major tournament for so long; they’ve probably had the wrong people in charge at different stages along the way and a lot of poor decisions.
“The best organisations are the ones that have stability, and I think they’re in that position now.
“Steve has done a good job over the last few years, he’s got a much more stable playing group and a group who want to play for their country.
“I’m not saying they didn’t in the past, but when things get destabilised people can lose interest and it doesn’t mean as much to people.”
Bennett, employed part-time given his ongoing role with Brisbane, is set to bring with him Jeremy Hickmans, his strength and conditioning coach at Broncos and previously St George-Illawarra, who is from Keighley, has worked at Hull KR and also with McNamara’s England.
Broncos’ performance analyst Scott Barker will also be involved, but of more interest is who he will appoint as his deputy.
There is an understanding the N0 2 will come from Super League but, given many of the competition’s head coaches spoke out against Bennett’s appointment, is that still likely?
“The criticism didn’t surprise me at all,” he said. “If I listened to people who criticised I wouldn’t be here today.
“I would work with someone who’s criticised my appointment; my job is to change their opinion.
“People will have their point of view for whatever reason, but sometimes the reason doesn’t match the logic.
“There are Australians who have coached England before and there’s lots of Australians coaching in English sport in the past.”
Castleford Tigers’ Daryl Powell, who did say he thought Leeds Rhinos’ Brian McDermott deserved the job, remains an ideal candidate with Wigan’s Shaun Wane also touted.
Bennett has not spoken to any of the domestic coaches yet to gauge opinions on players nor does he plan to seek out McNamara – “I might run into him at a game because he’s with the (Sydney) Roosters” – but says he has earmarked at least one more visit before the Four Nations later this year.
“I’ve three ‘byes’ coming up throughout the season and in one I’ll come to the UK and spend a week or so with the group,” he said, before confirming Wigan’s Sean O’Loughlin will remain as captain. “He’s a good leader who’s highly regarded in Australia by everyone, and the feedback on him has been outstanding, so there’s no cause to change it.
“I haven’t come here to change things that worked in the past; I’m not reinventing the wheel.”
Bennett, who won the 2004 Tri-Nations as Australia boss but quit the following year after they lost the same tournament against New Zealand in a major shock at Elland Road, has been itching to get back into international football.
“I nearly took the France job in the last World Cup (2013), and if I’d spoken French I probably would have, but I couldn’t have coached a team who I couldn’t communicate to,” he revealed, before adding he also had chance to lead the Kiwis in 2008.
“They offered me the New Zealand head coach job which I didn’t want at the time, so I got Stephen Kearney involved because he was a coach on the way up. I became his assistant because that worked, but I see this as a little bit different.
“I’m coming to the end of my career and it’s probably the last World Cup I’ll ever do, so to do it with a country who I’ve always had a lot of time for, with some good playing staff and a good organisation, is a good challenge for me.”