RUGBY Football League chief executive Nigel Wood has defended the appointment of Australian Wayne Bennett as the new England head coach, insisting he is the right man to bring success to the national team.
The 66-year-old Bennett, the most successful coach in the Australian game with seven Grand Final triumphs, has been appointed as the successor to former Bradford boss Steve McNamara on a two-year contract that takes in this year’s Four Nations Series and the 2017 World Cup.
The choice brought criticism from two prominent Super League coaches, Keiron Cunningham at Saints and Daryl Powell (Castleford), both former Great Britain internationals, who argued the job should have gone to Leeds’ treble-winning boss Brian McDermott.
Despite the 2-1 series victory of McNamara’s men over New Zealand in the autumn, Four Nations success has eluded the national team and it is nearly 44 years since their last major triumph, the 1972 World Cup.
“Steve’s contract expired at the end of December 2015 so it was a natural time to pause and reflect on what to do going forward,” Wood said. “We concluded that England’s chances of success would be enhanced if we asked Wayne to take the role.
“Wayne is the pre-eminent coach of the modern, possibly any era. He has a proven track record at club and representative level and is a sincere internationalist.
“The current group of players is an exciting proposition and they deserve the best in class coaching support to maximise the opportunity to succeed on behalf of the country.”
Bennett, who will combine the part-time role with his full-time job at Brisbane Broncos, has had two spells in charge of the Kangaroos and acted as the right-hand man to Stephen Kearney, his current assistant at the Broncos, when New Zealand won the 2008 World Cup.
Wood says Bennett’s support staff will most likely be drawn from Super League, which appears to rule out James Lowes, the coach of Championship club Bradford who was assistant to McNamara last season.
“Wayne’s nationality is a non-issue for me,” Wood said. “It’s actually about competence, ability and desire to succeed and I have no question marks on any front.
“We do, however, recognise that the coaching support group should ideally be populated by coaches from the Super League and this is what we will be seeking to achieve with the future appointments. Ultimately it is of course Wayne’s call as you would expect.”
Bennett is in England to finalise his team’s preparations for the 2016 World Club Series.
Brisbane take on Wigan at the DW Stadium on Saturday night, a match sandwiched between Sydney Roosters’ clash with St Helens at Langtree Park and Sunday’s World Club Challenge between Leeds and North Queensland at Headingley.
The series will give Bennett a chance to sound out potential assistant coaches and also cast his eye over England candidates ahead of the Four Nations Series at the end of the year.
“The next week is an incredibly exciting time for rugby league fans in this country with the best three teams in the NRL taking on three of the best in the First Utility Super League in the Dacia World Club Series,” Wood added.
“Wayne will have the chance to witness first-hand some of the best talent available to him when Brisbane take on Wigan on Saturday night and I am sure all of the English players playing this weekend will be aiming to impress the new coach.
“The coming years will undoubtedly be an exciting and important time for international rugby league with the Four Nations this year and the World Cup only 20 months or so away.
“We have got a great group of players and now the undisputed best coach. I am sure that is a combination everyone can get behind.”