This week, Wayne Bennett gave a press conference in London which was described by one Australian journalist as the “press conference of his career”. TotalRL was in the room for it – and here, in full, is what Bennett had to say about a whole host of issues..
Q: What improvements are you looking for on Sunday?
Bennett: “I just want to get back to the way we played against New Zealand, so there’s a lot of improvements for us. Australia are the best team. Beating them might not be enough, but we’ll know before we get to the game which is the good part. But we’ve got to beat them, that’s the number one thing otherwise it’s all over for us.
“I’ve not been disappointed other than the way we played on Saturday night, that’s all. We’d get beaten by 40 or 50 points (if they matched the Scotland effort).”
Q: Is the Mal Meninga rivalry overshadowing the build-up?
Bennett: “I haven’t read it so it doesn’t worry me. He hasn’t said anything to me about that (not being friends). I saw him yesterday, spent some time with him yesterday.”
Did you undermine him?
Bennett: “Well, it’s a matter of perception. I didn’t do that, but if that’s what he believes then that’s his prerogative. I’m not here to talk about Mal and myself. If you want to talk about the game on the weekend I’m happy to do that.”
Q: What can you learn from the Scotland game?
“I just want them to move onto playing Australia, none of that is relevant. Australia is relevant and that’s what they’ve got to get their minds around. They need to prepare to play the way they know they can play.”
Q: Your players have less big-match experience than the Aussies – could that be crucial?
Bennett: “Talk is pretty cheap in my world. You can talk about a lot of things and it doesn’t necessarily mean any action will be taken about it. The best thing is that can happen to us is to play in the big games and learn from that experience. Not some coaching talking.”
Q: Do you chase points against the Australians on Sunday?
Bennett: “We’ve got to win the game. That’s pretty screwed up thinking to be honest and it’s not going to help the players. They’ve got their hands full trying to beat Australia, let alone how many points we need, if that’s at all possible. That’s not going to come into the equation.”
Q: How much are you enjoying coaching Sam Burgess?
Bennett: “I’m enjoying that, Sam’s great and his brothers are wonderful. We’ve got a really good squad of guys here and I couldn’t be more pleased with them actually. I’ve had a really enjoyable month with them.”
Q: Can you tell the difference between George and Tom?
Bennett: “Not yet. I take a marker pen to training with me and put an X on one of their heads, that’s how I do it.”
Q: How is James Graham after his injury blow last week?
Bennett: “He’ll be playing. He trained this morning and he’s good. It’s important to have him back. He brings a lot. He’ll be good for us.”
Q: Do you find it strange that your press conferences get as much attention as your matches?
Bennett: “It’s a funny thing you say that. I started coaching in 1977 and they were bagging me then, and nothing’s changed in 2016. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge for me, and I am what I am. I don’t compromise myself or what I feel at that particular stage in time. It’s okay.”
Q: How much of your role is promoting rugby league in England as well as coaching team?
Bennett: “I’ll tell you about promoting rugby league. You can talk to any marketing department and they don’t want you to be goofing off and talking it up when your team’s getting beat every week. Because they won’t sell it to you. The end result for what we all do is about how the team is performing on the football field. I’m a football coach, that’s what I am. My job is to get get the best out of those players and give you the best entertainment they possibly can. When that’s in place, what you say away from the game is really immaterial. That’s been my philosophy all my coaching life. My players and my teams are my priority and always will be. I’m not interested in cheap talk and I’m not interested i thinking I can promote the game by something I say. I know that the teams that I coach play well and everyone enjoys the way they play, then you won’t have a shortage of fans and people interested in what you’re doing.”
Q: How far has international rugby league come since Great Britain’s heavy loss to the Aussies in 2002?
Bennett: “I think we’ve come a long way since then and there’s some wonderful things happening out there. We’ve seen Samoa emerge, Fiji starting to emerge, Tonga’s getting up there as well and that wasn’t happening in 2002. There’s a lot of other countries now playing as well, which is a long-term progress of course. But the international game is in a much better state.”
Q: Australia – how highly do you rate them?
Bennett: “Australia have always got good players. It’s the best competition in the RL world and they’ve always got good players. They’re hard and they’ve been born out of an Origin series that no-one else can replicate anywhere in the world. That gives them a great advantage, because the best of those players are in one team, and that’s why Australia is so dominant and has been for so long.”
Q: Do you pay attention to the criticism you’ve received?
Bennett: “To be candid with you again, I just don’t read anything you write any more. I haven’t read it for over a decade now, I don’t watch television shows and as soon as rugby league comes on I turned off. I’m immune to anything you say out there, it just doesn’t impress me.”
Q: Do you find this part of the job less enjoyable?
Bennett: “If I had a choice I wouldn’t do it. It’s not what I want to do – I want to coach, that’s what my priority is and what it will always be. Talk is cheap. I see lots of guys doing interviews and they’re just wasting your time and space. They don’t make any sense and they’re just playing the game. I can’t play the game unfortunately.”
Q: Was the RFL’s job description just coaching – not promoting?
Bennett: “That’s absolutely right.”
Q: Do the players have the self-belief to beat Australia?
Bennett: “That’s a good question. I don’t know, but we’re going to find out. There’s lots of fallacies in what we do and that’s a fallacy – how do you tell if someone has self-belief? They could talk tough and look tough but not play tough. It’s like losing – how do you tell if someone’s a good loser or a bad loser?”