Wayne Bennett is a brilliant rugby league coach, maybe the best ever. Wayne Bennett has been hired by England to make the national side better. Wayne Bennett is a clever man who prefers to do his job without having to explain it a thousand times a year. Wayne Bennett has been criticised for not talking to the media when he came over in the summer and he is currently being criticised for his abrupt answers to questions in the current Four Nations tournament. Does it really matter? No.
What is your favourite bit about sport on TV? Is it the hour-long preview? The blandishments offered by experts? The post-match interview with a breathless athlete in front of numerous logos? Or is it that bit squeezed somewhere in the middle, the bit with elite athletes doing what they do?
What is your favourite part when reading about sport? The endless supply of managerial press conferences turning journalists into stenographers? The post-match briefing with insight from the biased and aggrieved? The insistence that “we’ll learn some lessons/happy to win the toss/pleased with the win”? Or is it the insight from the (decreasing) number of writers who are allowed to analyse the bit where elite athletes did what they did?
England rugby union players went into purdah in the early 1990s for one game, but few people will go to their graves wondering what Will Carling thought that day. Yes, occasionally, there will be something worth remembering, but even a blind squirrel finds nuts in the woods sometimes, the same trees cut down to provide paper and fuel for the printed word and websites.
The punters don’t care, it’s a preconception used by the media desperate to fill time and space with talking heads – look to America to see how well that turns out – and spurious talking points that can be splashed on a back page or turned around quickly and used as clickbait.
On Tuesday on 5 Live, during a programme about rugby league, out came the classic “promoting the game” line, yet the presenter, George Riley, later said: “We’ve had an enormous response to this on text and social media and not a single negative message about Wayne Bennett.”
The best promotion of England’s rugby league team is to win, not in expansive answers when they’ve not played well. For many, he could strangle ferrets on the touchline if, on Sunday, they beat Australia for the first time in 10 years.
There was enough from Bennett to form a decent-sized reaction report after the Scotland game on Saturday from the Press Association (Sam Burgess also spoke and nothing from him was used despite using as many words in one answer as Bennett did in 10) and the Australian still provided the perfect soundbite. He was asked where England needed to improve against Australia: “You name it, I’ll agree with you.”
Seven words that say a thousand.