When England’s Rugby League World Cup campaign comes to an end over the next two weekends, so will coach Wayne Bennett’s tenure at England head coach. The expiry of his contract is unlikely to be followed by a renewal and this will leave the RFL looking for a new man to lead England and, for me, it must be someone English or, at the very least, is England based. One of the reasons fans have failed to warm to Bennett is that he doesn’t come over to watch Super League matches, instead relying on the likes of Denis Betts to keep his finger on the pulse in the northern hemisphere. So, bearing that in mind, there are only three people who can really be in with a shout.
The first, and the most unlikely, would be Widnes coach and England assistant Betts. Widely regarded as being uninspiring, promotion from within is the sort of unexciting decision that the RFL would make – not bold, not likely to attract much interest and unlikely to change the style or feel of the England camp. That being said, the former Wigan forward does have huge coaching experience in this country and has been under the tutelage of one of the world’s most highly regarded coaches in the form of Bennett. However, it still leaves him as an unlikely option but one that wouldn’t be earth shattering if it were to occur.
A more likely appointment would be Brian McDermott. Currently working to build the professionalism and quality of rugby league as coach of the USA international team, Super League’s most successful coach would jump at the chance of managing his national team and, while he isn’t regarded to coach the most exciting style of rugby league, nobody can question it’s effectiveness on the biggest stage – indicated by his sterling record in Grand Finals with Leeds. A coach with a great reputation, McDermott would command the respect of the England players and would be able to combine the two jobs such are the lack of mid-season matches in rugby league.
However, the man who I feel would be best set to takeover from Bennett and get his name on the manager’s office is that of 2017 Super League Coach of the Year, Daryl Powell. After getting his Castleford side playing a scintillating style of rugby, Powell is thought of as having huge potential and the England managerial job is surely the next stop on his career trajectory. Already with national players under his command at Wheldon Road – Luke Gale and Mike McMeeken – and others who narrowly missed out on RLWC selection – Greg Eden and Paul McShane – the former Featherstone boss’ coaching and man management is highly rated and the next challenge for him is to work his magic at international level. While he isn’t as well versed as McDermott in big game rugby, he definitely has the potential to become one of the coaching greats and England would be well served by making him Bennett’s replacement come the end of his contract.
Whoever is selected, it is vital that the RFL get someone involved who knows Super League intrinsically in order to get the feeling of togetherness running through the England team once more.