England coach Wayne Bennett admits the national team have gone backwards as Great Britain as he waits to find out if he will remain in charge.
The veteran Australian made the admission after watching the Lions go down 23-8 to New Zealand in the second Test in Christchurch to lose the series 2-0.
After guiding England to the 2017 World Cup final and a 2-1 series victory over the Kiwis on home soil 12 months ago, Bennett had hoped to use the return of Great Britain after a 12-year absence as key preparation for the next World Cup in 2021.
Before then, England host the Kangaroos in a revived Ashes Series next autumn and Bennett is still waiting to hear from the Rugby Football League if his contract will be renewed.
“That’s a decision they’ve got to make,” he said. “My contract finishes next week so we’ll see what they want to do.”
Bennett’s men started their four-match tour with a 14-6 defeat by a Tonga Invitational XIII and now move on to Papua New Guinea where they will hope to avoid a whitewash.
They trailed 20-2 at the Orangetheory Stadium after conceding tries to Joseph Manu, Shaun Johnson and Ken Maumalo before staging a brief revival sparked by a 50th-minute try from Josh Hodgson.
“They played much better than we did, that’s probably the best way to sum it up,” Bennett said.
“We didn’t get off on the right foot against Tonga two weeks ago and we haven’t picked it up from where we were the last time we played, respecting the opposition enough to realise how much discipline we’ve got to play with.
“I’m not happy we’re going backwards. I think we’ve gone backwards a little from last year and the World Cup year.”
Bennett, who has made no secret of his desire to stay on as England coach, insists there are positives to take from the Lions tour as he looks to the future.
“We can take a lot out of it,” he said. “The next year and obviously the World Cup years are the prime years. We’ve brought a lot of players here who haven’t played before and tried a few new combinations.
“If we have to have a stumble, this is the year to do it in.
“We’ve lost obviously Sam (Burgess) and Sean O’Loughlin, which are big losses for us, but there’s a strong group of players that will get us through the next two years. I just want to try to get them altogether at one time and go from there.
“I think one of the things that has affected us this year is that we didn’t have a mid-season Test and also I think our preparation time probably wasn’t long enough to go into the Tonga game. But their attitude to training and all the other stuff is outstanding.
“Their behaviour, all the things you want out of your footy team, they match up on, we’ve just got to get back to playing the way we did before.”
Leeds winger Ash Handley received news of his call-up to the GB tour during an end-of-season trip to Paris.
The 23-year-old was one of four players on stand-by from the England Nines squad and got the phone call from the Rhinos director of rugby Kevin Sinfield, who is also RFL rugby director, as the Lions’ injuries began to pile up.
“I got a phone call when I was in Paris on Wednesday morning,” said Handley.
“I came back from Paris on the Thursday night and set off on Friday afternoon to come here.”
Handley is clocking up the air miles, having flown to Sydney in October for the inaugural World Cup Nines, and he arrived in Brisbane on Sunday ahead of the GB squad’s departure for the final match of their tour against Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby.
He got the nod after Zak Hardaker joined Ryan Hall and Oliver Gildart on the injury list after three games of the tour.
“It’s unfortunate for other players but it’s opened a window for me to come in and hopefully get a chance to play against Papua New Guinea and try and keep the consistency I had at the end of the year and push on,” said Handley, who is set to go up against two of his Leeds team-mates in Wellington Albert and Rhyse Martin.
“It’s real nice to get noticed for England Nines and this chance has come up and hopefully I can take it with both hands.”
New Zealand: Tuivasa-Sheck, Maumalo, Nicoll-Klokstad, Manu, Isaako, Johnson, Marshall, Tetevano, B. Smith, Waerea-Hargreaves, Nikora, Harawira-Naera, Tapine. Substitutes: Nikorima, Proctor, Ah Mau, Blair, Hughes.
Great Britain: Lomax, McGillvary, Hughes, Connor, Austin, Widdop, Hastings, Hill, Hodgson, Burgess, Bateman, Whitehead, Graham. Substitutes: Jones, Clark, Walmsley, Thompson.