Wayne Bennett believes that all of the players currently in his England setup could make the grade in Australia and become consistent first-team players in the NRL following the success of further English exports this year.
John Bateman has been a revelation for Canberra Raiders, as has his former Wigan team-mate Ryan Sutton. Ryan Hall has featured three times for Sydney Roosters too since his serious knee injury, with the number of English players currently playing in the NRL now up to ten. That will increase to eleven in the next fortnight when Kallum Watkins joins Gold Coast.
And Bennett, who met with the squad this week during his whistle-stop visit to the United Kingdom, insists that he sees no reason why any England international can’t follow suit.
He said: “I’ve said to these guys here, and I’ll be quite candid with you all, and it’s been proved again with Bateman turning up and Sutton turning up – the guys that play for England, there’s not one of them that couldn’t play in the NRL competition and be regular players in first-grade, not one of them.
“They just don’t get the raps they probably deserve. But if we can win more games at Test level they will. John Bateman’s just got everybody enraptured by the way he plays, and he’s a guy that did a great job for me in the centres and on the edge. We all know what John brings if you’ve played with him or coached him, and Sutton’s been doing well over there.”
Bennett also believes that the high standard of the NRL will bring the best out of Watkins, who departs for Australia to take up a deal with the Titans at the start of July.
“I’m really pleased for Kallum,” he said.
“I noticed with Kallum that the higher standard of game we played in, the higher he lifted himself, and the level of competition over there every week will be good for him.
“He’s a wonderful player who’s had a bit of a tough time with it with a knee operation that has knocked him around a bit. Regardless of what we may think as coaches, it takes them at least another 12 months from when they rehab to get themselves back to their best. It’s not a nice injury and it does take a bit of time. He’s got half a season behind him now.”