The reality of Wayne Bennett leading England is already strange to many in rugby league circles, but the veteran mentor has revealed it was very nearly France who won the race for his services at international level.
While coaching the Newcastle Knights in 2013, Bennett had all but agreed to terms with Les Chanticleers ahead of that year’s Rugby League World Cup, but eventually turned down the deal based on a couple of stumbling blocks.
“I had the opportunity to coach France in the last World Cup, I nearly took it but there was two things that stopped me,” Bennett said.
“One was that I can’t speak French and I can’t understand how I could coach them if I couldn’t communicate with the players.
“Communication is what coaches do and if you can’t communicate with them because you can’t understand their language and they can’t understand you, I thought that was a bit difficult.
“The second thing, I was at Newcastle at the time and I just didn’t want the media coming at me using the fact that I had decided to coach the French team.
“I didn’t know the type of season we were going to have at Newcastle at the time, we finished up having a pretty good season. I just didn’t want the media making that headline every second day that here I am coaching France and Newcastle are struggling or something like that.
“Usually the media don’t influence me in my decisions, but on this particular occasion, just being a bit wiser [they did], but I would have taken the job other than that.”
England is Wayne Bennett’s last Test gig | SBS News https://t.co/AYQIqb4InF
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After going through last year’s Four Nations tournament with just one victory, coming in the shape of a 38-12 win over Scotland, Bennett said he expected England’s recent mid-year Test against Samoa, and the presence of some experienced heritage players, to boost them ahead of the World Cup.
Bennett handed Cronulla Sharks veteran Chris Heighington his first England cap since 2011 against Samoa, while also bringing in former Queensland State of Origin player Chris McQueen.
“I think the mid-year Test will be a help to them, they have just got to play more games as an international team as well,” Bennett said.
— 7 News Sydney (@7NewsSydney) 7 May 2017
“Australia get a huge advantage through their [State of] Origin, New Zealand get a much better advantage because they have been playing mid-year Tests against Australia on a regular basis. England need to start doing more of that.
“Chris Heighington has played for England in 2011… he was outstanding, he was great in the team and they accepted him, it wasn’t a problem, same with Chris McQueen.
“[England] want the best World Cup and they want to be with the best players, and these guys are the best players, they are eligible, they meet the criteria.”