England coach Wayne Bennett watched his side complete a series victory over New Zealand in a thrilling Test match and then urged international rugby league chiefs to “stand up for the sport.”
The hosts trailed by eight points early in the second period of yesterday’s brutal and compelling second Test at Anfield, but hit back with St Helens winger Tommy Makinson completing a stunning hat-trick to win 20-14.
Having also won the opener in Hull it means England already have the series sewn up ahead of next Sunday’s third and final Test at Elland Road.
However, the intensity, drama and quality of the games so far has only served as a reminder of what international rugby league can achieve.
As yet England’s itinerary for 2019 is still to be confirmed although it is planned that Great Britain will reconvene for the first time since 2007 for a tour of the southern hemisphere.
It remains to be seen if Australia will be the opponents, but the Rugby League International Federation is meeting in Yorkshire this week to discuss the way forward.
The RLIF are meeting in York this week aren’t they? I hope they have a strong meeting, stand up for the game and give us a product that we all want to see, which is international football played by the very best.England head coach, Wayne Bennett
Bennett, a long-term international advocate who has coached Australia and assisted the Kiwis during their World Cup 2008 win, wants to see some positive progress after an encouraging crowd of 26,234 witnessed a classic contest in Liverpool.
“Australia do what they want to do, but we will be in that part of the world next year and we will be playing Test matches,” he said. “We might not be playing Australia, but we will be over there somewhere and we will be playing Test matches, and I’m very confident about that.
“There was a great crowd [at Anfield] and they got right behind the boys.
“Tonga and Samoa have done wonderful things on the international front recently and we have just got to keep building on it now and try to get the politics out of it.
“The players want to play international football, us and New Zealand have given so much and it is a great three-match series.
“The RLIF are meeting in York this week aren’t they?
“I hope they have a strong meeting, stand up for the game and give us a product that we all want to see, which is international football played by the very best.”
Bennett completed his first series success since taking over from Steve McNamara at the end of 2015.
Makinson, 26, only made his Test debut in June, but in just his third appearance made a stunning contribution.
Bennett said: “I just want to know where you’ve been hiding him.
“I didn’t know about Tom until we took him to America and realised he was pretty special then.”
England were under intense pressure in the first period, but went into half-time at 6-6.
“We weren’t getting too much ball, nothing was going for us and we were hanging in there,” admitted Bennett.
“Tommy defended great out there and so did Jake Connor. They played great together, the tide turned for us turned for us because we didn’t let the scoreboard get away and we won the Test match.”
Bennett is not expected to make too many changes in Leeds, despite the series being secured.
“Test jerseys are too valuable,” he said. “I’m not just going to give away Test jerseys because I want to be nice to someone. It is not going to happen. The boys earn their right to wear them and I don’t want to take it off them.”
Match report: Page 7