Dave Craven: Tricky conundrum facing Great Britain coach Wayne Bennett

Plenty to ponder: Wayne Bennett.
Plenty to ponder: Wayne Bennett.
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IS it just me who thinks Wayne Bennett might pick an entirely English side for the Great Britain tour this autumn?

By that, I mean English-born players, not Australians who qualify through heritage rules.

I do not get this gut instinct due to anything he might have against quality individuals who have arrived from the NRL and been mentioned as potential Lions – Lachlan Coote, Blake Austin and Jackson Hastings the obvious ones.

I am sure they would all wear the GB shirt to be launched next month and bringing giddy anticipation for this writer, with pride, perform admirably and all have excellent cases to be included on current form. Similarly, Wales winger Regan Grace, who hails from Port Talbot, has produced some stunning displays for leaders St Helens.

So, too, has his club and international team-mate Morgan Knowles, whose authoritative performances at loose-forward belie his 22 years.

However, Bennett has made it known the 2021 World Cup is the “pinnacle” and, thus, preparing his England side for that.

Let us not forget he does not just have two roles – much has been made this week of the fact he coaches NRL’s South Sydney as well – but three: Souths, England and Great Britain.

As much as leading the Lions is another proud achievement in his career, ending England’s painful wait for World Cup glory would arguably be his biggest.

By the time 2021 comes around it will be just one year shy of a half-century since a team from these shores last won the competition.

With that in mind, and having come so close to defeating Australia in their own backyard in 2017, you sense Bennett will constantly be thinking about the long game; prepping England.

Given there are so few Test matches between now and 2021, it would be easy to see why he could have England very much at the front of his mind when selecting his Lions.

Australia come here to face England in a three-game series in 2020 when there would also presumably be a mid-season Test beforehand but then suddenly we are into the World Cup year.

So, the temptation to simply just send out his England side against the Kiwis, Tonga and Papua New Guinea when they head off in October must be strong.

Scotland international Coote has had a fine season at full-back for Saints and Bennett is a fan of the former North Queensland star. But would the Australian bring more to his side than Warrigton’s Stefan Ratchford or even Jonny Lomax if he opts to use the Saints half at No 1 again?

Salford Red Devils half-back Hastings does qualify for England so could play for them and the Lions. Yet, if that was likely to happen, you feel Bennett would have already included him in his England Performance Squad named in March. Austin, of course, has been brilliant since joining Warrington from Canberra Raiders as a ‘marquee’ signing this term and, arguably, would bring the craft and guile England have missed for so long in that position.

He, perhaps, is most likely to force his way in to the coach’s plans but with the chance to dovetail any two of Gareth Widdop, George Williams, Lomax and Jake Trueman on this tour, would the 69-year-old feel the need?

Bennett is not even yet contracted beyond this year with England but it seems likely he will be in charge in 2021.

Perhaps that – not his association with the NRL – is the real conflict of interest when it comes to leading Great Britain.