Rugby League

Wayne Bennett to give international rugby league a huge boost as England coach

Wayne Bennett is set to provide a huge boost to international rugby league by attempting to restore England as the world's No.1 nation for the first time in more than 40 years.

Bennett, who has held talks with Rugby Football League officials, is expected to be announced as England coach during the World Club Series later this month in a move that will pit him against Kangaroos icon Mal Meninga, with whom he combined to lead Souths Magpies to the 1985 Brisbane premiership before moving to Canberra together.

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The NRL's most successful coach will also go head to head with Brisbane Broncos assistant Stephen Kearney, whom he helped to mastermind New Zealand's defeat of Australia in the 2008 World Cup.

With the Kiwis last year ousting the Kangaroos as the No.1 team in the game since the Rugby League International Federation's rankings began, the appointment of Bennett as England coach may result in Australia slumping to third position.

England move: Wayne Bennett met RFL bosses in Australia last month.
England move: Wayne Bennett met RFL bosses in Australia last month. Photo: Getty Images

England are currently third but are closing in on top spot for the first time since the 1972 World Cup final, in which Great Britain claimed the trophy after a 10-10 draw with Australia in Paris, after beating New Zealand 2-1 in last November's Test series.

It would be tough for Steve McNamara to have to hand over the reins after finally achieving some glory in the England job but, when someone with Bennett's record becomes available, the current coach has to make way.


The same thing happened to Anthony Griffin at Brisbane and Rick Stone at Newcastle, while Paul McGregor had to wait months in 2014 before being appointed to the St George Illawarra job because Bennett told Dragons officials he was strongly considering returning to the club.

Already buoyed by the return of Sam Burgess from rugby union, England officials would be confident of success with Bennett in charge of a team also likely to include Canterbury skipper James Graham, St George Illawarra co-captain Gareth Widdop, George and Thomas Burgess, Canberra hooker Josh Hodgson, Roosters winger Joe Burgess and Broncos centre Jack Reed.

England coach Steve McNamara.
England coach Steve McNamara. 

After missing out on the Australian job to Meninga late last year, Bennett said he wanted to coach another country at the World Cup and Papua New Guinea immediately identified him as a replacement for Meninga, who was given charge of the Kangaroos while contracted to the Kumuls for a further two years

But PNGRL chief executive Bob Cutmore told Fairfax Media on Sunday he was yet to speak with Bennett about the role, which was initially proposed to include mentoring PNG Hunters coach Michael Marum during May's Pacific Test. No decision has yet been made on Marum.

In the meantime, Bennett met with RFL chief executive Nigel Wood and chairman Brian Barwick while they were in Australia for an international meeting in January and he is expected to meet with them in England ahead of Brisbane's World Club Series match against Wigan on February 20.

Wood has also met McNamara three times since November's triumph over New Zealand, one of which was during the trip to Australia, and he has said an announcement on the position would be madethis month.

But the delay over McNamara's future suggests the RFL are not be planning to renew the contract of the Roosters assistant coach if they can get Bennett, who has twice previously coached Australia and won seven NRL premierships, six with the Broncos and one with the Dragons.

After his return to Brisbane last year, he took the Broncos to the grand final for the first time since 2006 and they lost 17-16 to North Queensland in extra time.

Fairfax Media was told Bennett will would be confirmed as England coach this month but it was unclear if McNamara would remain involved or if the RFL would appoint an England-based coach such as Wigan's Shaun Wane, Brian McDermott from Leeds or Warrington's Tony Smith to work with the 66-year-old master coach.

Bennett will be the first Australian to coach England, although David Waite had charge of Great Britain between 2001 and 2003.

His appointment follows that of former Wallabies mentor Eddie Jones as England rugby union coach and, while many would prefer an Englishman held those roles, the reaction to speculation about Bennett has largely positive.