8th November 2019, 09:30 | great_britain

Wayne Bennett on squad ahead of NZ rematch

Wayne Bennett on squad ahead of NZ rematch

Great Britain coach Wayne Bennett has praised Blake Austin’s willingness to tackle an unfamiliar wing position in tomorrow’s Second Test against New Zealand in Christchurch.

Warrington’s Australia-born half-back has had a watching brief so far on the tour since making his England debut in the World Cup Nines last month.

But after Zak Hardaker became the latest three-quarter to suffer injury in New Zealand, following the earlier losses of Oliver Gildart and Ryan Hall, Bennett has asked Austin to step into the breach.

 "Blake has been wonderful,” said Bennett. “He’s accepted the challenge and wants to play. Blake is one of those guys who can play any position.

"I’m confident in him, the team is confident in him, he’s done everything right in training and it’s a good challenge for him."

There's good news however on prop Luke Thompson, who was forced off through injury in the first game of the tour against Tonga Invitational XIII, and missed last week's defeat to the Kiwis. Bennett is confident he'll be able to make his presence felt in his return.

"Luke is confident he can play. I’m a bit surprised, there’s a little bit of discomfort in it but that’s not unusual, players play through that sort of thing. 

"He’ll certainly be there to make an impact when he gets on the field."

Leeds Rhinos winger Ash Handley was yesterday called into the GB camp ahead of next week's final game of the tour against PNG, and Bennett believes it will be a great opportunity for the youngster.

"I didn’t want to bring anybody in for this test in particular, because they’d have only got in Wednesday/Thursday and we’ve had a group here together for four weeks. Ash comes in and will have a week with us and if we need him in PNG, we can use him.

"He’s a kid on the up. He was with England in the 9s, so he’s played really recently – other players won’t have trained for six weeks. He’s worked with most the squad before, so it makes the transition easier."

Warrington's Joe Philbin misses out on Saturday with a hamstring problem, and will be reassessed next week ahead of the final tour game.

Bennett also was delighted with the news that superstar Sonny Bill Williams is returning to rugby league with the Toronto Wolfpack.

"He’s been a very high-profile player in both codes for a long period. It’s great for the game over there. There’ll be a lot of expectation on him, but he’ll be used to that.

"I’m pleased for the game that he’s coming back."