England coach Wayne Bennett has received a ringing endorsement from Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood, who says he could remain in charge of the national team beyond the 2017 World Cup.
Under the veteran Australian, England failed to reach the final of the Ladbrokes Four Nations Series after losing to both New Zealand and Australia but Wood believes his impact will be felt over the next 12 months.
I’m not under any illusions, it’s a big ask for clubs to lose two or three key players for 11 or 12 days, It’s a significant commitmentNigel Wood
“Although there is disappointment that we didn’t make the final, I think the five weeks that he spent with the players were invaluable,” Wood said in an end-of-year media briefing.
“I think they all benefited as a consequence of that. All of the feedback that I got, through observation and the written feedback that we asked the players to submit, was very positive.”
Bennett, who succeeded Steve McNamara on a two-year contract last January, has provoked stinging criticism from St Helens coach Keiron Cunningham over his plans to take between 18 and 20 Super League players to a pre-season training camp in early January, disrupting the clubs’ preparations for the new season, as well as organising a mid-season international in Sydney, but Wood believes the clubs will back the head coach.
“He’s challenged us, he’s challenged us organisationally, he’s challenged the sport in this country, saying this is what I think we need to do to become as good as the best in the world.
“If you get someone who is regarded as the best in class, you’ve got an obligation to listen to him when he tells you what you need to do better.
“Everybody is entitled to their opinion. I’m not under any illusions, it’s a big ask for clubs to lose two or three key players for 11 or 12 days, It’s a significant commitment.
“It’s a really interesting period of time for the national team.
“I would say unequivocally, in all the time I’ve worked in rugby league, that the clubs - the chairmen, the coaches, the owners, everybody - has shared a dream for the national team to be successful.
“You hear in other sports club v country issues but I’ve genuinely never witnessed them.
“They know the thing that will light the touch paper for the sport to be successful in this country if for the national team to be sustainable and competitive. That will bring a dividend among everybody then.”
Bennett, who is full-time with Brisbane, has a part-time contract with the RFL to the end of next year’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand but could remain in charge.
“Who knows, it’s not an impossibility,” Wood added.
England team manager Jamie Peacock has checked out training facilities ahead of the trip to Dubai and Wood says efforts will be made to keep disruption to a minimum.
“There is an obligation on the national team to be sensitive and proportionate and not to make unreasonable expectations,” he said.
Meanwhile, Wood says Anfield improved its chances of gaining more big matches after drawing a 40,000-plus crowd for the Four Nations final between Australia and New Zealand and that Lions tours could be back on the agenda for the international calendar.
He also says the RFL will provide extra assistance to Scotland following their impressive showing in the Four Nations Series, in which they held the Kiwis to a notable draw.
“International rugby league owes a debt of gratitude to Scotland and we we will doing our best to help them,” he said.