Talking RL: Why Super League's reaction to Wayne Bennett's remark was petty

Wayne Bennett doesn’t mind speaking his mind - even if his comments may be considered controversial.

Thursday, 20th June 2019, 10:00 am
GB coach Wayne Bennett. Picture: SWPix

And the game is more colourful for it.

But when he praised ex-Warrior Ryan Sutton for ‘rising to the occasion’ at Canberra this season - “If he had stayed here we wouldn't have seen the potential he has got. It just challenges them over there because the competition is so hard” - I didn’t expect a backlash.

He was, in my eyes, pointing out the bleedin’ obvious.

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The NRL is a better-standard competition – and it has brought the best out of Sutton. The same way it brought the best out of Mike Cooper, who became an England international after leaving Warrington to thrive at St George Illawarra.

Some players do that. Others, like Chris Hill, Alex Walmsley and Luke Thompson, become international front-rowers while starring in Super League.

Either way, I certainly didn’t see any controversy in Bennett’s remarks.

But to my surprise, Super League issued a press release - an actual press release - in which it stated “clubs have expressed their concern” at the comments, saying they “appear to be in conflict with one of its chief aims – to attract and retain the best players in the Super League.”

In the statement, CEO Robert Elstone said “it does feel wrong that the coach of our national team is linking a move to the NRL so closely to the award of international honours.”

I didn't realise one of Bennett's remits was to bang a drum for Super League - I thought his sole focus was to coach the national side. But back to the issue.

The Sutton comments, when first reported, hardly raised an eyebrow. Rugby league has its Test coach, one of the great names in the sport, on these shores and it has - once again - gone and shot itself in the foot. Over what?

I understand where Super League is coming from, but did it really warrant a press release? I can't help think these "concerned clubs" would have to be looking to get upset about it, to get upset about it.

It all comes across as being, at best, a bit petty. At worst, a bit paranoid.

Taulima Tautai remains unavailable for selection as Wigan complete their own investigation into his drink-drive conviction.

His solicitor said in court the prop has been threatened with deportation but no further details have emerged.

If he can’t get a visa to work here, he obviously won’t be able to play for Wigan; others would say the club should axe him either way but when they supported Zak Hardaker after his drink-driving conviction – and stood by Craig Mullen after his – wouldn’t sacking Tautai reek of double-standards?

The prop has not been able to rid his performances of the errors which persistently undo his good work. Which is a shame, because at his best he offers something different – a dynamism, an off-load – which Wigan’s middle lacks.

Say what you want about the standard of Super League, but it’s not dull.

While bosses may have hoped there were six or seven sides all jostling for positions at the top, rather than the bottom, the threat of automatic relegation has dialed up the interest and excitement.

Wigan are not out of trouble yet. Yes, they are two points off a top-five spot and my sights are up the table, rather than over the shoulder - over the last seven games, only St Helens have won more Super League games than Wigan.

And in their last two, they’ve chalked off wins at Hull KR and Leeds, with ‘winnable’ games against Huddersfield (a), Salford (h) and Hull KR (h) to come.

Their form is showing signs of improvement – their defence is tigerish, the attitude is good even if the attack is patchy – and there are two other factors to consider.

Firstly, there is some mediocrity above the Warriors; sides with soft under-bellies, clubs with too little in reserve now injuries are beginning to bite.

And the fixtures are also kind, with the four sides above Wigan playing each other this weekend (Castleford-Salford, Catalans-Hull FC) meaning two will inevitably drop points.

Shaun Wane will today get a star on Wigan’s walk of fame. It’s well deserved.

Wigan have won four World Club Challenge titles in their history.

Wane was man of the match for one, coach for another.

Wigan have five Grand Final wins in their history.

Wane was coach for three of them.

This town has a proud reputation of people making the most of their opportunities, of punching above weight on the sporting scene.

Wane epitomised that in both his own coaching career – working his way up from St Pats and through the ranks at Wigan, and into union – and also the way he had his Wigan teams playing, time and time again.

What is it they say about London prices?

The Broncos are marketing tonight’s showdown with Hull KR with a special promotion – a ticket and three beers for £20. Compare that to the £27 Wigan fans were charged just for match-day admission at Headingley, for an unsheltered stand behind the sticks.

Swinton Lions also ran a big promotion last week. Power to clubs for trying to make games more affordable for the fans.