28th November 2017, 16:05 | steve_mascord
Australian readers will snigger – but an England win in the World Cup final on Saturday would be the crowning achievement of Wayne Bennett’s entire involvement in rugby league - which goes back more than half a century.
Bennett has won seven premierships with Brisbane and St George Illawarra, 10 of 14 matches in charge of Australia, delivered repeated State Of Origin success for Queensland and was assistant coach when New Zealand lifted their first World Cup in 2008.
But the last time England or Great Britain won a series involving Australia, Bennett was still a gangly winger.
That was the 1972 World Cup in France, when just 4,231 people at Stade de Gerland in Lyon saw GB and Australia draw 10-10, with Clive Sullivan’s side awarded the trophy on a countback due to their better results in the pool rounds.
As amazing as Bennett’s career has been – he is perhaps the greatest rugby league coach of all time – it did not begin – with Ipswich - until four years later. He didn’t lead Brisbane Broncos into the New South Wales Rugby League, which is when most fans became aware of him, until 1988.
His entire first class coaching career encompasses only three quarters of the time since GB or England last won a series involving Australia.
The America’s Cup was held by the New York Yacht Club from 1857 to 1983 and is one of the sporting history’s most famous examples of domination. That’s 125 years. Forty-five years is more than a third as long as the NYYC held the America’s Cup.
It’s a long time for a rival to hold the “wood” over another. It’s a grail of rather significant holiness.
The only thing that might match it in Bennett’s career is the Kiwis’ 34-20 win in the 2008 World Cup final. New Zealand invented international rugby league but had never won the Paul Barriere Trophy.
I disqualify this amazing feat on a technicality – he was assistant coach, not the gaffer.
Bennett has won seven NRL Premierships
Bennett helped the Kiwis lift the trophy in 2008
Great Britain were soundly beaten in 1978, 1982 and 1986 losing every Test of those Ashes series but things could have been so different in 1990, 1994, 1995 (as England) and 1997.
Each time, the Australians’ opponents took a Test off them. An interception by Ricky Stuart leading to Mal Meninga’s try in the second Test in 1990 changed the entire course of international rugby league.
When the sport In Australia healed after dual competitions in ’97, international competition dropped down the list of priorities and progress in Britain was lost. Infamously, the Aussies won 64-10 in Sydney in 2002 and victories by the men from the Old Dart have been sporadic since.
Unlike many of his predecessors, Bennett only needs to beat the Aussies once to stand atop Everest. Before the first match, he said it was about performance. This time, he says his England side isn’t playing well enough to win … but they’ll show up anyway.
What Bennett say afterwards, if he can mastermind his second great giant killing miracle in three World Cups?
Perhaps another great Aussie coach, no longer with us, won’t mind him borrowing a line from the celebrations after Parramatta’s first premiership in 1981.
“Ding dong, the witch is dead”.