ENGLAND head coach Wayne Bennett has still yet to publicly disclose whether he wants to continue in the role after seeing his two-year contract expire after Saturday’s World Cup final defeat to Australia.
His side went so close to winning the competition for the first time since 1972 only to fall 6-0 against the holders in a truly epic match in Brisbane.
I’m really proud of them. I thought the game was somewhere around State of Origin standard. They were exhausted, but still found another effort. They were wonderful and it’s a pity there has to be a loser.England head coach, Wayne Bennett
Australian coach Bennett, who is 67, has certainly advanced England after helping them reach their first World Cup final in 22 years.
Moreover, the squad clearly want the ‘supercoach’ – regarded as one of the sport’s best ever – to extend his time with them although the Brisbane Broncos chief will be 71 by the time the next World Cup is held in England in 2021.
However, New Zealand are believed to be keen on attracting his services after a turgid 14 months in which they have drawn with Scotland and then, in this tournament, exited at the quarter-final stages after losing to both Tonga and Fiji.
The Queenslander assisted New Zealand when they stunned Australia in the 2008 World Cup final.
For now, though, Bennett has only spoken of his pride at England’s performance on Saturday when they produced a stirring display to almost overturn Boyd Cordner’s solitary 14th-minute converted try.
“I’m not talking about that,” he said when asked about his future. “At the moment I’m not thinking about that.
“I’m really proud of them. I thought the game was somewhere around State of Origin standard.
“They were exhausted, but still found another effort.
“They were wonderful and it’s a pity there has to be a loser. Nobody really loses; the scoreboard says they do, but the effort and intensity from both teams was outstanding.
“That’s what makes sport great; someone has got to win, someone has got to lose.”
If Bennett does not continue in the role, there could be a number of British alternatives with Castleford Tigers’ chief executive Steve Gill having already pressed the claims of his club’s coach Daryl Powell earlier this season.
The ex-Great Britain centre led Castleford to a maiden League Leaders’ Shield this term and Grand Final appearance.
Brian McDermott, who secured his fourth Super League title in seven years with Leeds Rhinos when they beat Castleford in October, would also be an obvious option.
He has added international experience to his CV recently having coached USA in the World Cup.
However, Denis Betts, the Widnes Vikings head coach who has been assisting Bennett over the last two years, would also be handily placed.
Meanwhile, Australia coach Mal Meninga, who beat Bennett to the Kangaroos job two years ago, wants to see more international matches played in 2018 to capitalise on the success of the World Cup.
Although the 15th World Cup finished in predictable fashion, with the Kangaroos claiming their 11th title since its inception in 1954, there has been a raft of eye-catching results including Lebanon qualifying for the knockout stages and Tonga and Fiji both reaching the semi-finals.
Australia are due to play just one match in 2018, however, and although a Pacific Invitational Series has been organised for June, there are huge questions for a lot of the competing nations that Meninga would like to see answered.
“It’s been a great tournament,” Meninga said. “We’ve got the Pacific Islanders coming through, creating a lot of interest, and I thought Ireland were very good.
“I’m hoping we can keep pushing international rugby league and propagate the game, make it rewarding for all the counties to play on a regular basis.”
The Kangaroos’ only scheduled international next year is an end-of-season Test against New Zealand and fitting in any more fixtures would threaten the new peace deal between the NRL and its players by adding to their workload.
Meninga believes there could be a compromise.
“That’s for the big decision-makers,” he said. “I just think there needs to be more events, I know there is an appetite for it.
“The decision-makers have got to sit down and look at the scheduling, not only for us, but for the tier-two nations. Look at how Lebanon went. Make it a priority, that would be nice.”
Australia scrum-half Cooper Cronk, who turns 34 tomorrow, announced his retirement from representative football after the final and full-back Billy Slater, 34, hinted he may follow, too.