After pushing eventual winners Australia so close in Saturday’s RLWC final, England’s players are now uniting in a bid to persuade coach Wayne Bennett to stay on to lead their quest for world glory.
Bennett, 68, is regarded as one of the best coaches the game of rugby league has ever had and, despite criticism from media and fans alike over the last few months, nobody can argue that he has taken England the closest they have been to RLWC glory in a generation. Perhaps this is the reason why, following the match on Saturday, the stars are uniting and pleading with the Australian to stay at the helm.
Canberra Raiders star and former Super League player Elliott Whitehead is one of the players hoping that that now out of contract boss stays, saying that “Hopefully Wayne will stay on but we don’t know when he will decide. We can compete with the best and we proved that.” Indeed they did and it is fair to say that the Australians were desperately clinging on towards the end of proceedings. England put in a sterling performance and, in the opinion of Whitehead, are on the up, saying “we are building something special here and building a great team.”
Bennett himself has refused to speculate on his future, commenting “I’m not talking about it tonight, I’m not in a good state to talk about those things.” Fair enough after an emotionally, physically and mentally gruelling night’s work. NRL star James Graham, however, is another calling for the coach to stay; “I’d love for Wayne for continue in the job he is doing. He’s been great for this group, that’s plain to see. The observers and people can watch the game can see.” Indeed, Huddersfield winger – and RLWC star – Jermaine McGillvary spoke in the highest regard of Bennett, commending his man management qualities and tactical nous and hoped that the RFL offer him a new deal.
Despite their rivalry, Bennett’s Australian compatriot and managerial adversary Mal Meninga feels that, under Bennett’s tutelage, England are “improving all the time” and that they have “made huge strides” under the ‘supercoach’. “They’ve been really good all tournament. There’s not too many chinks in their armour. We found one tonight and that’s all.”
High praise, indeed, from both the players under his guidance and a managerial adversary – will the RFL take heed and offer Bennett the chance to stay on?