England v New Zealand: Wayne Bennett hits back at Makinson criticism

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England v New Zealand, third Test
Venue: Elland Road, Leeds Date: Sunday, 11 November Kick-off: 15:15 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Two, the BBC Sport website and app, plus commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and text updates online

England coach Wayne Bennett says ex-Australia internationals Brad Fittler and Greg Alexander “get paid to make silly statements” after they criticised Tommy Makinson’s Golden Boot award.

The 27-year-old St Helens and England winger was given the award after impressing on the international stage.

But New South Wales coach Fittler called the decision “ridiculous”.

“If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you shouldn’t talk about it, it’s very ill-informed,” Bennett added.

Makinson scored on his debut against New Zealand in June and added a hat-trick against the Kiwis on Sunday as England took an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.

He beat Australia’s James Tedesco, New Zealand’s Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and England’s Elliott Whitehead to the award, which is handed out by the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) for performances at international level.

“I thought it was ridiculous. It belittles the award,” Fittler previously said.

“I can’t believe the best player in the world is a person I’ve never seen play.”

But Bennett, speaking at England’s training run at Elland Road on Saturday before Sunday’s third Test against the Kiwis, said that view was “only from people that are ignorant and haven’t watched the last three Test matches”.

“I’m not surprised, they get paid to make silly statements,” the Australian added.

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England will emulate the 1993 Great Britain side which went unbeaten in five Tests in a calendar year if they complete a clean sweep on Sunday.

“It’s really important,” Bennett said about finishing 2018 on a high.

“We’re trying to build something. Good teams are consistent – they turn up every week and get the job done – and that’s our challenge here tomorrow [Sunday], to play at the standard we’ve set.

“We won the first two games by two and six points so there’s not much in it. If we get beat and we’ve done well tomorrow, I won’t be disappointed.”

Former England captain Kevin Sinfield, the Rugby Football League’s director of rugby, expects the 68-year-old Australian to continue in his England role for the 2021 World Cup.

“Wayne is really enjoying his time working with England, I think more than he expected to. We are now starting to see him smiling at games and he’s enjoying himself,” Sinfield said on Friday.

Bennett said: “I love working with these guys. I can’t give them a big enough rap. I enjoy just being part of their lives. I’m not second-guessing myself about being here.

“I’m looking forward to going home next week but at the same time I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Bennett has made four changes to his 19-man squad for the final Test against New Zealand, with Wigan second rower Joe Greenwood in line to become the 11th player to make his England debut this year.

St Helens centre Mark Percival has been limited to a single appearance against France, with Oliver Gildart and Jake Connor preferred for the New Zealand Test series.

“Team selection is always in the eye of the beholder. We all see things differently,” Bennett added.

“I like what Gildart brings and Jake has got talent oozing out of him, although there are a few things in his game he needs to fix up.

“‘Percy’ is wonderful to work with and he’s much improved. He’s certainly not the player he was when he first came into the squad.

“There were a few things he needed to get better at and, to his credit, he’s done that. He knows I’ve got confidence in him, I’m just looking at different things for this series.”

Impressive performances at Hull and Liverpool led to a scramble for tickets for the third Test, with more than 30,000 tickets already sold.

“I’m elated with that. We went to Hull and we weren’t sure if the crowd were going to cheer us or not,” Bennett added.

“But they’ve seen these guys put in, they were outstanding in Australia in the World Cup and I think they’re getting some belief into their fans, that they’re a good side.”

England 19-man squad: Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Jake Connor, Oliver Gildart, Jermaine McGillvary, George Williams, Richie Myler, Chris Hill, Josh Hodgson, James Graham, John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead, Luke Thompson, Adam Milner, Tom Burgess, Joe Greenwood, Stefan Ratchford, Mark Percival, Reece Lyne.