Bygones: Wayne Bennett’s key role in breaking British hearts as Brian Noble took control of the reins

Sean Long.
Sean Long.
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AS Wayne Bennett approaches his first Test as England coach, he may well remember also being involved in the maiden game of one of his predecessors more than a decade ago.

The renowned Australian, regarded as one of the greatest coaches in rugby league history, takes charge of the national side when they face France in Avignon on Saturday.

However, 12 years ago, it was proud Bradfordian Brian Noble preparing for his first taste of the role – admittedly in the guise of Great Britain before the illustrious Lions broke up at the end of 2007 into the home nations.

He earned the chance to lead Great Britain having enjoyed success with Bradford Bulls, leading them to a famous treble in 2003 and taking over the national side the following year on the recommendation of departing David Waite, Great Britain’s first Australian coach before Tony Smith and now Bennett.

Noble had been No 2 throughout Waite’s three-year stint and so it was that on Saturday, October 30, 2004, he began his own managerial reign against the famed Kangaroos, led by Bennett, in a closely-fought encounter at the City of Manchester Stadium.

As would so often be the case, then and for so many years since Britain’s last major success in the 1972 World Cup, the hosts narrowly missed out 12-8.

It was a strange Test match in the sense that neither side managed to kick a goal, Great Britain captain Andy Farrell being off target with both his efforts and Australia’s Brett Kimmorley struggling even more, missing all three of his conversion attempts.

Kangaroos winger Luke Rooney did the main damage with a brace of tries, Willie Mason also crossing.

For the home side, Brian Carney and Martin Gleeson got over the tryline but Noble’s side, for all the quality in their ranks, just fell short, losing agonisingly with only 35 seconds remaining.

The game was locked at 8-8 when, having seen both Paul Sculthorpe and Sean Long fluff attempts, Farrell lined up a drop-goal to win it.

However, Nathan Hindmarsh charged down the kick and, a few plays later, Penrith winger Rooney was over in the corner to break British hearts yet again.

In the pack alone that night, Britain boasted the likes of Adrian Morley, Jamie Peacock, Stuart Fielden and emerging Wakefield Trinity second-row Gareth Ellis.

With Wigan’s Terry Newton at hooker – a player Noble would sign for Bradford 12 months later – and Sculthorpe and Long in the halves, they were not short of potential match-winners.

Britain did beat the Kangaroos 24-12 two weeks later in Wigan and reached the final but, in that Elland Road game, Noble’s side were given a masterclass by Darren Lockyer as Bennett – in his first year in charge – saw his side inflict the hosts’ biggest defeat on home soil 44-4.

Bennett went on to win 10 of 14 Tests but, after the shock 24-0 Tri Nations final loss to the Kiwis – again at Elland Road and just 12 months later – he had no other option but to resign as Australia suffered their first major defeat in a series or tournament since 1978.