England coach Wayne Bennett has revealed a maximum of three Wigan players will take part in the mid-season Test against Samoa.
As part of a compromise with Super League clubs, Bennett says he has agreed not to take more than three players from any one club for the 12,000-mile trip to Sydney in May, where they will link up with the seven or eight NRL-based England players.
‘We won’t take more than three from one club, I’m happy with that’
Wigan have a clutch of internationals, with John Bateman, Liam Farrell and George Williams all involved in last year’s Four Nations, Joe Burgess, Sam Tomkins – due back from a foot injury in April – and Joel Tomkins past members of the squad, while captain Sean O’Loughlin is keen to return to the Test arena after missing out last year through injury.
Going further back, Tony Clubb and Micky McIlorum have represented England.
“There’s a compromise cooperation which exists between England rugby league and the clubs and we’re all trying to make that work,” Bennett said. “There’ll be about a dozen who miss the following week’s fixtures in England because they’re playing in Australia, but the Samoa game is an important one to play, because we want more games.
“All the other countries are doing it in mid-season and we want to be the best team possible.
“We’ve got an undertaking that we won’t take more than three from one club because they’ve all got games the following weekend, but I’m happy with that.
“We’ll take or 12 or 13 from the UK but we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t important. I’m confident that they’ll handle things over here, my staff - I’ve got the two Pauls, Sculthorpe and Anderson, who have worked with me in the Four Nations and they’re used to what I want.
“We’ve discussed all the programmes and Richard (Hunwicks) is right across the fitness side of it.”
Bennett described the cancellation of his planned training camp as a “minor setback” and accepted blame for a breakdown in communication with the Super League clubs.
The Rugby Football League was forced into an embarrassing about-turn after a host of high-profile coaches, including former England boss Tony Smith, criticised Bennett’s plans to take 17 players to Dubai in the first week in January, claiming it would cause massive disruption to the start of the new season.
Bennett, who has brought Brisbane Broncos over to England for the Dacia World Club Series, spoke for the first time about the issue at a press conference in Manchester today.
“It’s obviously disappointing,” he said. “We didn’t want the clubs to compromise what we were trying to achieve but we’ve made a decision not to proceed with it.
“It’s my fault; I should have communicated better and I take responsibility for that. But the staff here are working extremely hard with the clubs and I had a meeting with the coaches last night so we’re doing everything we can to improve communication.
“We were keen on it of course, but it’s a minor setback; it would have been nice to do it, but we can’t, so we have to just move on.
“It’s always tough on clubs. I’m in a competition in Australia which has State of Origin in it which has a huge impact on all of us, particularly when multiple players can be selected from one club like at the Broncos.
“We will continue to proceed with the in-season stuff; we will do one day a week over a period of weeks throughout the course of the season. It won’t be every week, but it has the support of the clubs.”
The RFL has persuaded clubs to release their elite training squad members for a series of training sessions which will be held throughout the domestic season under the guidance of assistant England coaches Paul Anderson and Paul Sculthorpe in the build-up to the end-of-season World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Bennett, who is halfway through his two-year contract, says the England players were disappointed over the decision to scrap the camp but insists he never considered his own position.
“When the Dubai thing didn’t work for us, maybe clubs didn’t realise how much players give and they do need to support us because they do give a lot to their country,” Bennett said.
“I know they were disappointed; they wanted to do the camp and I just don’t want to let them down. They’re such a good group of blokes and they need all the support they can get - so me making a poor decision isn’t going to help them.”