Wayne Bennett insists his young England team will face formidable opponents when they face New Zealand in the first Test on Saturday.
England take on New Zealand at Leigh Sports Village in the opening match of their three-Test series this weekend. The hosts warmed up for the game with a 44-6 win over France but coach Bennett expects a tough challenge against an improving team.
New Zealand pulled off an impressive 26-24 victory over Australia earlier this month to end the world champions’ 13-match winning streak.
Bennett, who will take charge of South Sydney Rabbitohs for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, exclusively told Sky Sports: “They’re a very talented team and have been for a long time. They just had some management problems and some issues in the last couple of years that held them back but they’ve got that sorted out now and a quality coach in Michael Maguire.
“He’s won the Premiership. He’s coached here and won here and you could see that in the Australia game so they’re very formidable. I wasn’t surprised.”
Bennett has been forced to pick a young squad due to mounting injuries, with Sam Burgess the most notable absentee, and he believes it will be a learning curve for the players as they build towards the next World Cup.
He said: “We need the opportunity to do that [make progress] and the next World Cup is in 2021 so we’ve got three years in front of us.
“We’ve got half the squad missing from the last World Cup through injuries predominantly and one or two have retired so it gives an opportunity for some young players to come in and we need to start building and get the confidence they will need in 2021.
“They’re good and they’re talented [young players] with good work ethics. They’re easy to coach. The coaches over here have done a great job. Their behaviour is top shelf and it’s hard to fault them.”
Debutant Tom Johnstone scored a hat-trick in England’s win over France although Bennett confirmed a couple of players are ahead of the winger heading into the New Zealand series.
England defeated the Kiwis 36-18 in Denver in June but Bennett expects a totally different match this weekend and does not think their previous clash will have any bearing.
“The Denver game was a bit strange,” he said. “It was kind of a crazy afternoon. It was hot and played at altitude. Everybody was gone after 20 minutes because they started with such intensity at the beginning.
“After that it was just whoever held the ball the longest so I didn’t take much out of that. This series will be really important to us to see where we’re really at with New Zealand back on track again wanting to be a top nation.”
New Zealand have named an unchanged side from the one which beat Australia, with Jahrome Hughes the 18th man and Joseph Tapine the 19th.
England 19-man squad: John Bateman, George Burgess, Tom Burgess, Daryl Clark, Jake Connor, Oliver Gildart, James Graham, Chris Hill, Josh Hodgson, Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Jermaine McGillvary, Richie Myler, Sean O’Loughlin, Mark Percival, Luke Thompson, Sam Tomkins, Elliott Whitehead, George Williams.
New Zealand 19-man squad: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Ken Maumalo, Esan Marsters, Joseph Manu, Jordan Rapana, Shaun Johnson, Kodi Nikorima, Jesse Bromwich, Brandon Smith, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Kevin Proctor, Isaac Lui, James Fisher-Harris, Kenneath Bromwich, Leeson Ah Mau, Martin Taupau, Adam Blair, Jahrome Hughes, Joseph Tapine.
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