Wayne Bennett defends English majority in Great Britain squad

Great Britain coach Wayne Bennett has defended his selection policy on the Lions tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Speaking at a press conference in Port Moresby, the veteran Australian was also forced to explain his decision to fly Ash Handley 10,000 miles to join up with the Lions squad and not play him in the last match of the tour.

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Although the Great Britain brand has been revived after an absence of 12 years, Bennett’s 24-man squad is essentially English but he denied any bias against the other nations.

“That’s not true,” Bennett told the press conference. “The best players are here in the English competition.

“Lachlan Coote is Scottish and another of the boys Joe [Philbin] has played for Ireland and there’s a couple of others [who were] due to come but got injured and couldn’t come.

“We picked what we thought what the best team. Noe one looked at their nationalities. That’s how it was picked. Obviously it’s predominantly English but that’s the way it’s been for a long time.”

Leeds winger Handley was called up late after Britain lost Ryan Hall and Oliver Gildart to injury inside the first two matches but has not been included in the squad for Saturday’s match against the Kumuls.

“I wanted to bring him to Papua New Guinea, for some culture and experience,” Bennett said.

“The reality is that we lost a number of players with injuries, a couple have gone home and they’re all outside backs.

“We’ve lost three actually, last week against New Zealand we had to put Blake Austin there. I wasn’t sure he could get the job done or not but I was pretty confident he could.

“We didn’t think we could bring someone out from England on Monday or Tuesday and play them in a Test match on the Saturday so, looking ahead to here and realising we could have more injuries, we brought him out as a precaution.

“If we had more injuries, we could include him, if we didn’t, we’re happy with what we’ve got and we’ll go with that.”

Meanwhile, members of the squad visited Tatana Island on Thursday to pay tribute to former Kumul international Kato Ottio.

Ottio played for Canberra from 2016 to 2018 alongside Austin, Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead and was due to link up with Widnes ahead of the 2018 season until his sudden death at the age of 23.

The Lions squad were met by the entire village before a short ceremony and the chance to visit Ottio’s grave along with being taken to Ottio’s mother’s house, which was the former centre’s legacy after he passed away.

Hodgson said: “It was important for us to come to Kato’s village and pay our respects. It was fantastic to see the young children and how excited they were to see us.

“Kato always had a big smile on his face and loved the game and you can still see that with those who are following in his footsteps.

“Kato’s mother gave us a warm welcome and I know this is something that will live with all of us for a long time.”

Austin said: “They say it takes a village to raise a child and you can see where Kato got his love of life from when you meet the people he grew up with and lived alongside.

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