WAYNE BENNETT claims having so many England players featuring in the NRL will only bolster his chances of success with the national team.
Not only does seeing the likes of Sam Burgess, James Graham and Gareth Widdop on his doorstep in Australia, where Bennett is coach of Brisbane Broncos, help logistically but also hardens them for battle against the Kangaroos and New Zealand.
“It’s a great help having English guys playing in the NRL,” he said, with former Hull KR hooker Josh Hodgson and ex-Bradford Bulls second-row Elliott Whitehead also out there at Canberra Raiders among nine England hopefuls.
“It gives us a great boost and will help out the playing group no end; they’ll come back much better for it.
“I know the likes of Sam and James Graham aren’t scared of playing against Australia as they play against them every week. It’s some of the guys here we have to convince.
“But it is a big help having so many over there; they’re quality players and not old either.
“You were picking 33 and 34-year-olds in the past and hoping they could resurrect their careers in one game, but it doesn’t work like that.
“(Predecessor) Steve (McNamara) recognised that and there’s a real group of players there who do want to play for this country.
“There’s some talent in the group. I know that. Some real talent.”
The 66 year-old Australian, rated the best rugby league coach of the modern era, has promised an entertaining brand of football, too when he takes charge for the first time this autumn, a friendly with France planned before the Four Nations begin.
“I want people to be talking about us – good, bad or indifferent,” he said, the coaching guru’s arrival aligned to the return of Burgess after an ill-fated 12 months in union raising hopes England can win a major tournament for the first time in more than 40 years.
“It’s when they don’t talk about the national team and the players in the hotels, the coffee shops and in the office corners that we’ve got a problem. I don’t mind their opinion being the opposite to mine, so long as they’re talking about us. It gets some passion going and they know what it means to play for England.
“We’ve got a great product and when England are at their best, and Australia and New Zealand, it’s going to be some top entertainment. You guys in the media will be able to talk about lots of stuff and it certainly won’t be negative.”
Star forward Burgess, chastised for his part in the dire England rugby union side’s doomed World Cup campaign, will play his first game back for South Sydney today in a trial against Gold Coast Titans after his controversial exit from Bath.
The Yorkshireman, 27, left the Rabbitohs as the best player in the world at the end of 2014, and came back just one year into a three year deal.
Bennett said: “We will do all we can to make sure he doesn’t get the profile he got whilst he was in rugby union – that wasn’t positive for Sam.”
Meanwhile, Bennett has essentially ruled himself out of ever taking control of the Australia side again following his two year stint in 2004 and 2005.
Their governing body, who have seen Queensland chief Mal Meninga step down to take on that job full-time, will not allow an NRL club coach to combine the roles.
Bennett said: “It’s pretty much impossible for me to go back and coach Australia.
“They’re hardly going to change their policy in the next couple of years; there’s only three guys who could be appointed and whilst it continues to be like that, no NRL coach will ever coach Australia again.
“I’m not going to sit around for 10 months and twiddle my thumbs; I won’t do that. I want to coach in the NRL for as long as I can, and I’m not going to give it up to be a national coach.”
Finally, he confirmed he won’t be following England rugby union’s new coach Eddie Jones’s lead, his fellow compatriot who has sung the English national anthem during the Six Nations.
“I won’t be singing God Save The Queen – I’m Australian,” he deadpanned.
“It’s Eddie Jones’s prerogative if he wants to sing it.”