Bennett hits out at rugby league eligibility rules

SYDNEY – Halfback Kevin Brown became the first known sportsman replaced because of a tweet as England progressed to a World Cup semi-final against Tonga — and Wayne Bennett criticised the eligibility rules that allow Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita to play for the Mate Ma’a.

Tonga will be confident of another tier one scalp at Mt Smart Stadium after England only completed at 53 per cent against Papua New Guinea in Melbourne on Sunday.

Bennett perhaps set up a feisty week when he was asked about the eligibility rules that allowed five players including Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita to chose the Mate Ma’a over New Zealand and Australia.

“I didn’t speak publicly about it when it happened but the game has to look at it and we have to treat the fans with a lot more respect than we did,” he said.

“Whatever country they want to play for, that’s fine with me. But we need to have a look at that and find how we can make it better for everyone concerned.

“It wasn’t what the game needed with the world cup about to start, those headlines for two or three days. The boys in my opinion are entitled to play for who they want to play for but we’ve got to have better guidelines around it.

“The players just need to make a choice … which they did this time. But the game needs to be in charge of the game, the came can’t be run by clubs, OK?”

The Broncos coach refused say exactly how he’d change the rules. “That’s not for me to talk about here today,” he commented. “Administrators can do that. I get paid to coach. They get paid to run the game.”

During a lively presser, the Clint Eastwood lookalike even described England’s performance as “the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Bennett revealed a player who was not involved in the 36-6 quarter-final win over Papua New Guinea — believed to be prop Scott Taylor — showed a video from a tweet to the team doctor of Brown being hit heavily in the 28th minute Based on that evidence alone, Brown was replaced.

Conversely, PNG lost their captain David Mead to a concussion in the opening stages; he was immediately replaced, failed a HIA and was barred from returning.

“I’ll just explain what happened so the drama queens in the group here don’t get in front of themselves,” Bennett said at the post-match media conference, when asked about Brown’s condition.

“The doctor, when he went on the field, didn’t see the incident because there was no replay board. It wasn’t working.

“Kevin assured him he was fine, there were no major symptoms that suggested he’d been knocked out.

“He came off, he talked the League doctor who was here today and he was of the same, he told him it was a category one.

“Nearing halftime, one of our players was on social media, one of the players not playing, and up come a replay of the incident. Up until that stage, no-one had seen it.

“He brought it in and he showed it to the doctor. The doctor realised it was a category one. We kept him in at halftime. He was taken off the field. Kevin was fine, he had no symptoms at that time of being knocked out. Kevin was quite coherent.

“Because you could see it on replay that he was knocked out, for maybe a second .. in Kevin’s mind he was stunned … but it looked bad enough for the League doctor and our doctor … they took him off.”

Warrington’s Brown has a history of head knocks and will have to pass several tests to play next week.

“I don’t know his history, I just know … he’s totally coherent in the change room, he was totally certain at halftime that he was going back on the field and that wasn’t because he was in a concussed state,” Bennett said.

It wasn’t hard to imagine PNG beating England as you watched the fourth World Cup quarter-final. It was just hard to imagine it happening on that day.

First there was the loss of Mead.

In his absence, Papua New Guinea did some great things and some terrible things. They missed 22 first-half tackles but seemed to get from their own 20-metre line to England’s with an ease that must have troubled Bennett.

Their last-tackle options were terrible. They dropped the ball from scrum wins, had no one go to dummy half. But still they only trailed by 14-0 at the break.

In the second half, England weren’t much better than they had been against Lebanon or France. From Gareth Widdop’s kick, Ben Currie regathered to score.

But after being infuriatingly inept inside the opposition red zone for 58 minutes, Papua New Guinea second-rower Willie Minoga got a hand free and passed to an unmarked Garry Lo. Rhyse Martin converted from the sideline and there was just the barest whiff of hope that events in Wellington the previous evening could be repeated.

The best player on the field at AAMI Park was England winger Jermaine McGillvary, who would love an opportunity in the NRL.He scored England’s first two tries in the 10th and 14th minutes, with Kallum Watkins’ offload something to behold.

In the second half, it was Leeds’ Watkins who got two with McGillvary setting up one of them. Their combination is one of a handful of bright spots for England in this patchy campaign.

Bennett said Sam Burgess, upon his return from injury, “needs to improve his passing game … mixed”. Asked if the side was playing well enough to beat Tonga, he said: “I don’t know, I haven’t really watched Tonga play.”

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