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21st June 2019, 13:44 | great_britain

Wayne Bennett on the international calendar

Wayne Bennett on the international calendar

WAYNE Bennett has the polo shirt, now he wants the Great Britain playing kit.

The Lions’ coach is in the country for a flying visit while NRL side South Sydney Rabbitohs do not have a game because of State of Origin 

And the thought of guiding the reborn international side in four Tests against Tonga, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea is already getting him excited.

So much so, he would not mind seeing what the kit, which will be unveiled by suppliers Hummel next month, looks like.

Bennett said: “The England part was a bit foreign to me actually because it was always Great Britain, so I’m really pleased but more importantly the players are really pleased. 

“When all the English players in Australia got together, they were elated about playing for Great Britain – no-one more so than Sam Burgess.

“He played his first Test match in 2007, which was the last time Great Britain played. 

"In Australia, Great Britain is a household name in terms of the older people. People of my age and a little younger certainly remember all the tours and what an impact they had. It was something they always looked forward to.

“I think tours can be brought back. We’ll have to play a few midweek games, that’s the key. I’m optimistic it can happen and Great Britain has such a great brand. 

“Rugby union does it with the British Lions and they do it well. They come to Australia every 12 years and there’s a huge amount of interest, across all codes. 

“And international rugby league is in the best place it’s been for a long time. Young men want to play for the Kangaroos and Great Britain, it’s important we never let that die.”

Bennett’s time in the UK is not just a chance to say ‘hello’ to England’s players and one or two familiar faces, there is work to be done.

Not least ironing out who he wants as his assistants on the tour, which starts on October 26 against Tonga in Hamilton, after Paul Wellens asked for a winter off after four consecutive years working and James Lowes moved to rugby union.

Bennett, along with Rugby Football League rugby director Kevin Sinfield, will sit down and speak to candidates before coming to a decision, with one likely to be announced fairly soon.

“I saw the England players on Monday night and I’ll interview a couple of coaches in the next 24 hours, then I’ll get on the plane and go home,” Bennett said.

“It’s good to see the players even though they’re not training. I’ve a wonderful relationship with them and it’s easy to be a part of their lives. 

“It was good to see them, I hope they enjoyed seeing me!” 

A Great Britain train-on squad is set to be announced on September 2 before the final tour party is revealed on October 14, two days after the Super League Grand Final. 

While New Zealand and Tonga – who face each other on Saturday – are on the itinerary, one country is conspicuous by its absence, Australia. 

However, Bennett is not beating himself up that the Lions will not face the Kangaroos, saying: “I’m not disappointed. New Zealand are a quality team. Tonga are a quality team, so we’ll have our hands full there and Australia will be here next year.

“We don’t have to play Australia at the moment. We know what we’re doing and where we’re going. Most importantly, we’re going in the right direction.” 

By here they will and Bennett revealed counterpart Mal Meninga hops to get midweek matches, recreating the look of an old style tour, going.

He also assured England fans despondent at the fact there is no mid-season Test that he wants it to change in 2020.

He explained: “I was talking to Mal the other day and he’s keen to come and play some midweek games and revisit the Kangaroos’ traditions.

“He's spoken to some of club owners and there's a possibility of playing England Knights, which would be great for them. It’s pretty exciting stuff next year and it will be great for England.

“I’m not too frustrated this year to be honest with you. It was important to be involved a couple of years ago and this time last year we were in America, which was a great experience for us all.

“But I don’t want to be left out of the loop going forward. It’s too good an opportunity for us if we want to compete with the best, which is Australia. We can’t keep missing the opportunity.

“I can tolerate one year off in three but we certainly want to be back there next year playing. It just gives players an opportunity to get exposed to a higher level of competition and that’s the only way we’re going to get better.

“This weekend in Australia is a really great weekend with all the Pacific islands playing, Tonga v New Zealand and State of Origin. I want England to be there next year, I don’t want us to miss out.”