With the confirmation of Mal Meninga’s appointment as Kangaroos coach during the week, the former Newspaper of the Year Courier Mail reported Broncos coach Wayne Bennett was so displeased at the snub that he was going to take his coaching expertise elsewhere as punishment.
Hard to believe that this would be the case, having read his books, but none the less if it is indeed true we might be able to suggest a potential rugby league that could do with a little Wayne Bennett coaching consultancy polish – Papua New Guinea.
Along with the Australian snub, New Zealand aren’t really in services of Bennett as they have the upper hand on Australia at the moment after winning the most recent Four Nations tournament and look good with a full squad. England too have just beaten New Zealand in their most recent series. A weakened New Zealand, but a series victory all the same, so no need here either. That leaves one of many second tier nations, mostly from the Pacific region and who better than the PNG side.
They have quite a lot going for them, not least is the fact that in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup they will host three games in the early stages, and would any team really be brave or silly enough to dare beat them there in front of 15,000 salivating, excitable, passionate rugby league fans. Not forgetting the oft-told statement that PNG is the only country in the world where rugby league is the national game.
That passion of the PNG people for their league may be another factor in luring the coaching guru closer to the equator. With multiple NRL Premierships, State of Origin series wins, and a league legacy spread throughout the game, what a cherry it would be if he could get the maximum out of the rugby league mad nation.
Then there’s the talent. With the PNG Hunters introduction into the Intrust Super Cup extra opportunities for the PNG players to shine has been offered, and haven’t they taken their chance. After finishing 6th in their inaugural season, they got within one point of a minor premiership and one week of the Grand Final in 2015, and many of their players have caught the eye. And those are the ones who aren’t yet playing in the NRL and in England.
Neville Costigan would be the biggest name in the side, and someone that Bennett would know well from their stints together at the Broncos, Dragons and Knights. Ray Thompson, David Mead, Wellington Albert are more notable names with NRL experience that would well and truly hold their own. But it would be the challenge to turn the lesser known names like Mark Mexico, Israel Eliab, Thompson Teteh, and of course Gurgler favourite Willie Minoga into bigger rugby league names, and what better place to do it than on the international stage – the Rugby League World Cup in 2017.
As mentioned in the title, Wayne wouldn’t be the first Bennett to be involved with the PNG national side. Wayne’s brother Bob was the national coach for almost a decade from 1995, and if Wayne could bring his usual Midas touch to Papua New Guinea, who could blame the locals if a spate of newborns are all called Bennett from late 2017.
Unbelievably PNG were ranked 11th in the Rugby League world rankings in May 2015, behind Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the United States. What a feather in the cap to get the nation who love their league to 4th by the end of the World Cup, and troubling the big three in the process. Talk about achievement if it’s possible.
It’s all a pipe dream though, a bout of wishful thinking, but like the PNG NRL bid wouldn’t it be a wonderfully romantic rugby league dream to come true.