England coach Wayne Bennett hailed his team’s mid-season Test as an unqualified success after they overcame Samoa in Sydney.
The veteran Australian sparked controversy by insisting on playing the game in Australia in the middle of the Super League season and angered some with his selection of Australia-born and bred forwards Chris McQueen and Chris Heighington.
But Bennett shrugged off the criticism after tries from Ryan Hall, Stefan Ratchford, Josh Hodgson, James Graham and Jermaine McGillvary, plus six goals from Luke Gale, enabled his team to see off a dangerous Samoa side with ease in their last competitive fixture before the end-of-season World Cup Down Under.
“It was a tough game of football,” said Bennett in the post-match press conference. “We got challenged a fair bit and we worked hard to get the result we got, that’s what we’re here for. We won’t get better watching the other nations play.
“I’m not worried about the critics. If I was, I would have left the game a long time ago, I didn’t even know about that until you just told me.”
Bennett had been under pressure after England failed to reach the final of the 2016 Four Nations Series despite home advantage and he was forced to back-track on his plans for a pre-season camp in Dubai following opposition from Super League coaches.
The Brisbane Broncos chief agreed to reduce the burden on Super League clubs by restricting his selection to no more than three players from any one team but expressed himself satisfied with the improvement from the Four Nations campaign.
“It was an add on from where we finished the Four Nations,” said Bennett, who revealed he had just two training sessions with the squad. “I’m really pleased with how they came back together.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to do anything but they picked up from where they left off.
“From the team that I left in November last year to the team I saw here tonight, there is a lot of confidence in the group and confidence in individuals within the team.”
England captain Sean O’Loughlin, recalled after missing the 2016 internationals through injury, said the 12,000-mile trip had been a worthwhile exercise in preparing the team for their World Cup opener against Australia in Melbourne on October 27.
“I think it’s been great to come over here and come together as a group,” the Wigan loose-forward said. “We’ll get more out of that than we would a game back home. The camaraderie off-field, spending 24 hours a day with each other, is good to get that bonding going into the World Cup and on the field it was a real physical battle which I think everyone wanted out of this game.
“I wasn’t involved last year but I think the boys were one step ahead because of the time they spent together last year. Coming in this week, it felt like everything was on the front foot and it was about refreshing it with everyone.”
Denied the services of Gareth Widdop and George Williams through injury, Bennett was encouraged by the display of half-backs Gale and Kevin Brown but conceded there were mixed fortunes for debutant forwards McMeeken and McQueen.
“It was difficult for McQueen because I tried to give young McMeeken experience,” he added. “He’s got a good a future ahead of him. I know what Chris brings and he plays in a tough comp every week, so that wasn’t a concern, my concern was getting McMeeken through.”
Cameron Smith celebrated his 50th cap by leading Australia to a 30-12 win over New Zealand in the last ANZAC Test. The Kangaroos ran in five tries to two in Canberra to continue their domination of the Kiwis, who have now suffered five straight defeats at the hands of Mal Meninga’s men.