Wayne Bennett calls on NRL to avoid Pacific Islands mistake

·Sports Reporter
·4-min read
Wayne Bennett has called on the NRL to ensure the Pacific Island Tests remain on the calendar when a new TV rights deal kicks in next year. Pictures: Getty Images
Wayne Bennett has called on the NRL to ensure the Pacific Island Tests remain on the calendar when a new TV rights deal kicks in next year. Pictures: Getty Images

Wayne Bennett has called on the NRL to reconsider dropping the Pacific Island Tests when the league's new TV deal kicks in from next year.

Fans enjoyed a sold out contest between New Zealand and Tonga at Mount Smart Stadium, while the double-header at Campbelltown Park featuring Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa and the Cook Islands also attracted a bumper crowd.

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The weekend scheduling of State of Origin II had opened up an opportunity for international Tests to be played during the NRL bye, with a significant number of players opting to play for their nations as a result.

However the new TV deal will see Origin games return to their traditional mid-week fixture, with the Tests to be dropped - something incoming Dolphins coach Bennett believes is a big mistake.

All three Tests featured stunning scenes that showed just how important the opportunity was to the players, with both New Zealand's Brandon Smith and Samoa's Josh Schuster moved to tears after their respective national anthems.

Bennett said that passion had clearly resonated with fans, and not maintaining the Tests in some way was a disservice to fans.

Despite the unusually flat Tongan performance, outclassed by New Zealand 26-6, the crowd was in full voice throughout and Mt Smart once again becoming a sea of red Tongan flags.

"I think Peter V'landys has done a wonderful job for the game but they've got this one wrong," Bennett told the ABC. "It's crazy stuff.

"It was sold out in New Zealand - a huge atmosphere - and it meant so much for those men to play for Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Cook Islands and Samoa.

"All of a sudden we're going to pull the rug from underneath them? I don't know what we are going to do with it."

Wayne Bennett outraged at prospect of lost Pacific Island Tests

Bennett, who was due to act as an assistant coach with Tonga before withdrawing with illness, claimed the NRL was being short-sighted by dumping mid-season internationals.

The NRL wants to use October and November as the sole window for internationals but those games are likely to be impacted by player availability.

"Other codes don't have this, we're in competition with ourselves and other codes," Bennett said.

"Now we want to play with it. (You might ask) what does it (a Test weekend) achieve?

"Ask all those men who played what's the purpose. If players didn't want this they wouldn't have turned up in the quality they did.

"I can't get my head around why (the NRL is scrapping it)."

Papua New Guinea overcame Fiji in a thrilling contest in the Test at Campbelltown Park last weekend. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Papua New Guinea overcame Fiji in a thrilling contest in the Test at Campbelltown Park last weekend. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Bennett, who is set to be the coach of the Dolphins when they join the NRL next season, remarked that it was important to recognise that the impact of the Pacific Island Tests was rival to that of State of Origin.

“If you’re a young boy at home last night, and I’m sure there were thousands of them watching with their grandfathers or uncles, whatever, the same nationality as they are, you don’t think that would have impact on them wanting to be a rugby league player? You don’t think that was important to them last night?

“Origin tonight will mean so much to so many Queensland and New South Wales young boys and girls. And we’re going to take it away, it’s crazy stuff.

“I don’t get it for one weekend of the year, sold out in New Zealand, huge atmosphere. And the third game last night (Papua New Guinea vs Fiji), I could watch that every day of the week.

“It mean so much for those young men to play for Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Cook Islands, Samoa. And all of a sudden we just pull the rug out from underneath it and go ‘I dunno what we’re gonna do with it’.”

With AAP

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