Lachlan Coote will be considered for Great Britain tour

Lachlan Coote. Picture: SWPix
Lachlan Coote. Picture: SWPix

England coach Wayne Bennett says his squad for the 2021 World Cup is almost complete but in the short term he is ready to open the Great Britain door to fresh faces, including imports.

The Lions are being reformed this year and Bennett, who will lead them on the end-of-season tour to New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, spoke of his passion for the Great Britain brand at a press conference in St Helens.

"The England part is a bit foreign to me actually as it was always Great Britain," said the 69-year-old Australian.

"I'm really pleased but more importantly the players are pleased.

"All the English-based players when we got together in Australia were elated about playing for Great Britain.

"In Australia, the Great Britain name is a household name in terms of the older people.

"People my age and younger than me certainly remember them all and what an impact they had on our country. It was something we used to look forward to every four years."

The Kangaroos are set to tour the UK in 2020 and Bennett says Australia coach Mal Meninga has spoken of his desire to play midweek fixtures in addition to the Tests.

St Helens' Welsh international winger Regan Grace, who attended the press conference, is expected to challenge for a tour spot this year, along with club-mate Lachlan Coote, who has represented Scotland in the past, and Warrington's Australian stand-off Blake Austin, who has a British grandmother.

"I've seen Lachlan play," Bennett said of the former North Queensland full-back. "He was a tremendous player in Australia.

"I was sorry to see him leave Australia because I've always rated what he brought to a team.

"I see great talent in Blake that he hasn't lived up to at times but he seems to be settled now and playing some wonderful football.

"If they're eligible and want to come into the mix then that's a decision we'll have to make.

"I'm going to pick the best team I possibly can from what I'm allowed to pick."

Bennett expects NRL-bound centre Kallum Watkins to be in contention for the tour after missing the series with New Zealand last year through injury and says Castleford prop Liam Watts has a chance of pressing his claims for a World Cup spot.

Bennett, who succeeded Steve McNamara as England coach in 2016, is out of contract at the end of the year but dropped a strong hint that he will remain in charge for the next World Cup.

"I'm not thinking about new deals, I just want to get the best players down to New Zealand and do the best we can," he said.

"In my own mind I'd like to be here for the World Cup in 2021 and the squad's just about here for that.

"There won't be a lot more players come into that squad the next two years, there might be a couple come in but a lot of those men their best years are not behind them yet."

Bennett met the England players from the elite performance squad on Monday night and will undertake interviews for the vacant Great Britain assistant role during his whistle-stop trip to the UK.

Bennett's former assistant James Lowes has left rugby league and it was confirmed that St Helens assistant coach Paul Wellens will not be part of the national backroom staff this year after requesting time off.