HULL KR head coach Tim Sheens does not expect England chief Wayne Bennett to bow to any pressure when it comes potentially to selecting Welsh, Scottish or Irish players in his Great Britain squad this autumn.
Australian Bennett has been handed the reins of the Lions as they re-form for the first time in 12 years to tour New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
He is a big advocate of international rugby league and has pressed hard for the trip – which opens with a maiden Test against Tonga in Hamilton on October 26 – to go ahead.
Fellow countryman Sheens won the 2013 World Cup with Australia and, with four Grand Final victories, is second only to Bennett as his country’s most successful club coach.
However, there is plenty of talk about whether anyone outside of the current England team will actually break into the Lions squad like Welshman Iestyn Harris (2005) and Irishman Brian Carney (2006) did in the more recent past.
Hull KR, for instance, have Scotland internationals Kane Linnett and Danny Addy who may hope to press their claims.
Sheens, 68, said: “A Lions team is definitely different isn’t it?
“There’ll be players representing Wales, Ireland and Scotland who now have that interest.
“But at the end of the day it will still be the best players; Bennett will still pick his best side.
“He won’t care which heritage they’ve got and I wouldn’t think they’d do the obligatory play one from Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
He won’t care which heritage they’ve got and I wouldn’t think they’d do the obligatory play one from Scotland, Wales and Ireland.Tim Sheens
“It’ll be the best English side they can put out and if there’s a bit of Scottish, Irish and Welsh blood in it, so be it.”
Wigan’s Wales prop Ben Flower is perhaps the most obvious candidate to catch Bennett’s eye from the other three nations although Britain are not short of high-class English front-rows such as James Graham, Chris Hill and the Burgess brothers. Given he coached the Kangaroos from 2009 to 2015, Sheens never actually faced the Lions on the Test stage – they had changed to England by then – although he did lock horns with them earlier in his career.
“When I was coach of Canberra we had a game against them in ’92,” he recalled, although his Test stars such as Mal Meninga, Bradley Clyde and Laurie Daley did not feature as, by some quirk of the scheduling, they had a club game the following day.
“We were struggling and I had to play fewer than my normal number of first-graders.
“Obviously as a player myself I can remember touring sides playing.
“The great Dave Bolton, who played at Wigan, coached in Australia and later helped me, came over and I remember Lions sides coming out playing in the ’70s.
“They were the great tours when they’d start in North Queensland and work their way down.
“Get sunburned and be as red as that (pointing at Hull KR poster) straight away.
“I think Australia deliberately did it to them… put them in the sunshine and every one of them burned.
“They were great, though. They’d play in New South Wales, go play a Sydney side, New South Wales country, Queensland country and they were great tours.
“But it will never be that long anymore and the seasons are playing concurrently anyway.”