England coach Bennett: We need to clean up our act

Wayne Bennett defied the perception that he is terse with the media to lay out his manifesto for English rugby league after his side's latest international agony.
Wayne BennettWayne Bennett
Wayne Bennett

The Australian coach spent the week building up to the London Stadium shoot-out with Australia being analysed on the back of a series of short, snappy interviews.

It has been said the veteran coach is not employed to promote the game but to win matches, something he and England have failed to do twice in this Four Nations, this 36-18 defeat knocking them out before the final at Anfield next Sunday.

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That will be played out between Australia and New Zealand, leaving England’s players left to ponder once more, with Bennett’s words about their attitude ringing in their ears.

Based in Brisbane and away from Super League, Bennett sees no problem with the quality and skill set of his players, but he has identified fatal attitude flaws when it comes to making on-the-field decisions.

“If you look at the context of the game we competed well, but made errors,” he said amid a punchy start to his post-match duties.

Bennett soon loosened up, though, adding: “The problem is our inability to continually maintain pressure... not finding the sideline on two occasions, which is pretty important in any context let alone against the best team in the world. Then the stupid penalties we continually give away.

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“England are very capable of being a lot better than they are right now. A lot closer than all of you in this room realise.

“Until we get these little problems out of the road... that’s manifested by their club football, I have seen that and they get away with it at that level, you can’t at this, that’s the difference.

“It’s not commitment, effort, guys trying hard, good skills. It’s all there, they just have to clean their act up and figure out what beats them. They think it’s the opposition that beats them.”

Bennett and England will take on Samoa down under in a mid-season friendly in May that he hopes will harden their edges ahead of the World Cup next autumn.

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He knows, though, that the players have to find a way to prevent themselves falling into a malaise at club level if they are to be ready for the main event.

“This is all about the World Cup. I’ve learned a lot, they’re a good group of blokes, they try really hard, their on- and off-field behaviour is great and they’re a pleasure to be a part of,” he said.

“I have enjoyed it, immensely. It’s been a pleasure and it makes me frustrated, more anger in my case, as they don’t show how good they can be.

“It’s an easier job than I thought it would be. I thought I would have more issues to deal with, because of their behaviour and discipline. Their club coaches have done a good job with them in lots of areas, they know how to train well.

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“The problems will be insurmountable if they don’t have a change of attitude and buy into what I know works and won’t work any other way. If they don’t recognise what’s beating them and change their attitude and physical behaviour on the field...”

Even poster boy Sam Burgess was not exempt, Bennett telling the captain he “needs to change” his habit of giving away penalties for club and country.

“It’s not just English-based players that have got the problem,” he said.

Australia and coach Mal Meninga will now head to Anfield to meet New Zealand - somewhat fortunate finalists after their inability to beat minnows Scotland.

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“Credit to England but out attack was outstanding,” Meninga said. “We worked on putting the ball in the right place.

“I am very pleased with the outcome. We had to work hard but deserved to win the game.”