Head coach Wayne Bennett has warned that England could be in danger of going backwards if he fails to get a mid-season international in 2019.
Bennett says the 2017 mid-year Test with Samoa in Sydney was crucial preparation for his side’s successful World Cup campaign and this year’s clash with New Zealand in Denver was also critical to his long-term planning.
Proposals for a second trip to Denver have been shelved and Bennett’s hopes of replacing it with a game against France next June appear to have fallen through after the 2019 Super League fixture list revealed on Tuesday made no provision for a mid-season international break.
“If that’s the fixture list that’s come out, then you know more than I do and I can’t answer that question,” said Bennett after an open training session at Headingley ahead of Sunday’s third Test against the Kiwis.
“I want a game. It’s not by accident that we’re doing what we’re doing at the moment, we’re building something and we want to maintain doing those things, otherwise we’ll go backwards.”
Bennett is also unclear about the opposition he will face when he takes a re-formed Great Britain team on tour to the southern hemisphere next October, although details are expected to be thrashed out at a four-day Rugby League International Federation conference in York which began today.
Australia have shown little interest in hosting the revived Lions after their plans for a Kangaroos tour in 2019 were rejected, which would leave Britain to play New Zealand and the Pacific nations.
“I really don’t know what’s going on with Australia at that level and I don’t really care to be honest,” Bennett said.
“We need to be playing next year, there’s a proposal about what we’re doing and where we play and what we do.
“If the Kangaroos don’t want to play we can’t make them play, I’m not worried about the Kangaroos. Life will go on with or without them. We can only play what they tell us to play and get on with it.”
Meanwhile, Bennett is forced to make three changes for Sunday’s game at Elland Road, where England can complete a 3-0 series whitewash.
Scrum-half Richie Myler is handed a recall in place of Sam Tomkins, who Bennett revealed broke a hand five minutes into last Sunday’s game at Anfield, and Stefan Ratchford will take the place on the bench of hooker Daryl Clark, who picked up a rib injury in the 20-14 win.
Skipper Sean O’Loughlin has failed to recover from a calf injury he aggravated in the first Test and, with prop George Burgess suspended, Bennett will give a debut to Wigan forward Joe Greenwood, who will be on the bench.
Bennett says England have decided not to appeal the four-match ban given to Burgess, although he insists he did not deliberately gouge the eye of New Zealand full-back Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
“I’m disappointed to lose him but I don’t believe it was a deliberate eye gouge,” he said.
The loss of Burgess leaves England light on props but Bennett expects Greenwood to seize his opportunity.
“We didn’t expect to lose two of them in a three-game series,” Bennett said. “We’ve lost O’Loughlin and now George but Joe Greenwood could play there.
“He’s a good athlete and he’s got an opportunity he probably wasn’t going to get, so he’s going to grab it.”