Soul-destroying Great Britain Lions tour means is it time for Wayne Bennett to go

END GAME: Jonny Lomax shows his frustration after GB Lions after losing to New Zealand at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch on Saturday. Picture: JohnDavidson/ www.photosport.nz/ SWpix.com
END GAME: Jonny Lomax shows his frustration after GB Lions after losing to New Zealand at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch on Saturday. Picture: JohnDavidson/ www.photosport.nz/ SWpix.com
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IT should never be the case that Great Britain rugby league fans actually fear watching their team.

Admittedly, after almost half a century of failing to win an Ashes series, it is understandable why many would fear the result.

Great Britain Lions coach Wayne Bennett, during a Lions rugby league team training session in Auckland. Picture: Brett Phibbs / www.photosport.nz /SWpix.com

Great Britain Lions coach Wayne Bennett, during a Lions rugby league team training session in Auckland. Picture: Brett Phibbs / www.photosport.nz /SWpix.com

However, there should never be any trepidation around the prospect of witnessing them play? That should be full of hope and excitement.

Yet I am sure I am not alone in being distressed knowing they are in action one last time against Papua New Guinea on Saturday morning.

Plenty will not be getting out of bed to watch it; they have learned from bitter, painful experience.

This tour of the southern hemisphere has been utterly soul-destroying.

As much as there is talk of the Australian being kept on for the 2021 World Cup – now is the right time to make a change.

Dave Craven

All three Tests so far have been largely pitiful and horrible to watch, with so little enterprise or invention on show.

When Josh Jones became the latest forward to lumber in a one-up carry on the fourth tackle so close to New Zealand’s goalline on Saturday, I am presuming I was not the only person screaming at the television set.

The whole set had followed that predictable, mundane nature and with Britain not once looking to try and put any sort of play on to test the Kiwis’ resolve.

This one was only saved when Jones squeezed out a late offload and Josh Hodgson actually dived over for a try, New Zealand perhaps more surprised by anyone their opponents moved the ball.

TIME TO GO? Great Britain Lions head coach, Wayne Bennett, pictured after SAturday's defeat to New Zealand. 'Picture: Martin Hunter/www.photosport.nz /SWpix.com

TIME TO GO? Great Britain Lions head coach, Wayne Bennett, pictured after SAturday's defeat to New Zealand. 'Picture: Martin Hunter/www.photosport.nz /SWpix.com

Still, it was their only try of the game. The Lions have lost all three Tests, following on their opening defeat against a Tongan Invitational XIII with two losses against New Zealand.

They have managed just one solitary try in each. Having waited 13 years for a Lions tour, this has been such an anti-climax.

I was a big fan of the RFL’s decision to appoint Wayne Bennett as England coach in 2016.

They went out and got arguably the sport’s greatest-ever coach and he made a mark, getting them to the 2017 World Cup final where they lost narrowly to Australia and winning last year’s three-game home series against the Kiwis.

Shaun Johnson dives over for a try against Great Britain at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch, on Saturday. Picture: Martin Hunter / www.photosport.nz /SWpix.com

Shaun Johnson dives over for a try against Great Britain at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch, on Saturday. Picture: Martin Hunter / www.photosport.nz /SWpix.com

His contract is up, though, after this weekend and – as much as there is talk of the Australian being kept on for the 2021 World Cup – now is the right time to make a change.

Bennett himself conceded they (the Great Britain squad is essentially England plus Scotland’s Lachlan Coote and Ireland’s Joe Philbin) have gone backwards on this tour; given the sparse nature of international rugby league there is no time for more of that.

As much as the powers-that-be are targeting the home 2021 World Cup, there is a home series with England v Australia to think about next year which rightly has similar high billing.

It is unbearable to think that after waiting 17 years for the Ashes to return, England could then turn in performances of this recent ilk against the Kangaroos.

With Bennett’s safety-first approach, though, people will fear more of the same and that is a risk the RFL surely cannot take.

Given England were humiliated 34-0 by the Kiwis at Elland Road in the final Test of last year’s series, Bennett has now lost four successive games including this Lions drudgery and a win over the Papuans will do little to add any gloss.

There has been so much muddled thinking along the way, too, not least in the bizarre decision to take six half-backs in his 24-man squad yet only two wingers and one specialist centre.

When injuries inevitably came in the three-quarters, it led to some surreal sights, including Warrington Wolves stand-off Blake Austin playing wing for the first time in his career in Saturday’s loss against New Zealand.

That said, Bennett cannot be solely to blame given the squad materialised with the help of a six-man selection panel...

Nevertheless, the 69-year-old has done little to grasp or amplify the concept of the Lions.

For example, he let slip on this tour that the inclusion of so many halves was partly to help him assess them for England duty further down the line.

That goes against the whole ethos of the Lions, such an historic and prestigious brand; Bennett should be picking the best players for Great Britain in 2019, not worrying about England in 2021.

There was similar public comments about Ash Handley, the Leeds Rhinos winger who seems to have benefitted in part because he has been on England Knights and England Nines duty previously.

Wales’s impressive St Helens winger Regan Grace was not considered as a replacement when injuries struck. Meanwhile, Bennett also called Handley “Josh” in a media interview before last Saturday’s game which is slightly perturbing.

Sinfield says the RFL have been in talks with the veteran coach about extending his stay but nothing will be decided until after the series ends this weekend.

There is talk of former Wigan Warriors head coach Shaun Wane being a contender if they did decide to look elsewhere.

And Castleford’s Daryl Powell, the former Great Britain international, is the sort of coach who would at least promote a style of football that won’t leave disgruntled fans switching off their TVs.