HEAD COACH Wayne Bennett says England are in a “good place” as they prepare for the Four Nations tournament that begins this week.
Bennett is regarded as one of the finest coaches in modern rugby league history after spells in charge of his native Australia and on the New Zealand backroom staff when they won the World Cup in 2008, as well as at Canberra, St George, Newcastle and Brisbane in the NRL.
His appointment has raised hopes England could end a 44-year drought in multi-nations tournaments against southern hemisphere opposition.
Speaking at yesterday’s tournament launch at Liverpool FC’s Anfield stadium, where the final will be staged on Sunday, November 20, Bennett insisted he has seen positive signs.
“I haven’t thought too much about winning the tournament,” he claimed.
“I have just been working with the players, seeing what they’ve got and what they haven’t got and I like what I see.
“They’ve got a good attitude, they work hard and they are well-versed in the skills of the game.
“We are in a pretty good place at the moment, with a real test to come in the next few weeks. I am happy with where we’re at.”
Bennett’s only prior association with the English game was a spell as a player at Huddersfield in the early 1970s.
But he denied any qualms about coaching England – who begin against New Zealand in four days – and brushed off suggestions he is using the role as a way of regaining the Australian top post
“My primary role in life has been to coach for a long period of time,” he said.
“I am just doing what I do every other day and I just happen to be coaching England.
“I am pretty happy with the English job right now, I am just happy with what I’m doing and pleased I made the decision I made.
“I’m enjoying working with the team, a great group of blokes.”
Kiwi coach David Kidwell predicted a “tough test” against England on Saturday.
“I know it is a sold-out stadium at Huddersfield,” he said.
“All the [Four Nations] coaches want to see Test football at the pinnacle of rugby league.
“It is going to be a great atmosphere.
“It is a strong England team and we are really looking forward to a big crowd and a really great game.
“I’ve said to the boys it’s a place you’ve really got to enjoy and embrace, because they love their rugby league up here in the north.”
Australia, who take on Scotland at Hull KR’s Craven Park on Friday, will be tournament favourites, despite being ranked second in the world behind New Zealand.
Their coach Mal Meninga said: “Our focus has been on performance.
“We have got a great footy team and we want to make sure we play to our potential.”
Scotland, captained by Huddersfield Giants’ Danny Brough, are the tournament minnows, but coach Steve McCormack stressed: “We have earned the right to be in this competition.
“Our aim is to get the best out of the squad we’ve got. I am really confident this is probably the best squad Scotland has ever fielded.”