Wayne Bennett hits back at criticism of Golden Boot winner Tom Makinson

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England coach Wayne Bennett has hit out at former Australia internationals Brad Fittler and Greg Alexander for their criticism of the selection of Tom Makinson as the Golden Boot winner.

Makinson capped a remarkable entry into the Test arena in 2018 with a hat-trick of tries in a man-of-the-match performance in England’s series-clinching win over New Zealand at Anfield last Sunday.

His eye-catching displays in three games against the Kiwis were recognised by the Rugby League International Federation on Wednesday, when he was presented with the Golden Boot, awarded this year for performances only in internationals.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” said Fittler, the current New South Wales coach. “It belittles the award.

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

Bennett fired back at England’s training run at Elland Road on Saturday, saying: “That’s only from people that are ignorant and haven’t watched the last three Test matches, the one in America and two here in the UK.

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

England v New Zealand – International Match – Anfield Stadium
England winger Tom Makinson’s selection as Golden Boot winner has caused a stir (Dave Howarth/PA)

Having secured the series with a game to spare, England have a chance to emulate the 1993 Great Britain side which went unbeaten in five Tests in a calendar year by completing a clean sweep at Elland Road on Sunday and Bennett wants them to finish 2018 on a high.

“It’s really important,” he said. “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, 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.”

England’s impressive performances at Hull and Liverpool have sparked a flurry of interest in the third Test for which more than 30,000 tickets have already been sold.

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

“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.”

Former England captain Kevin Sinfield, the Rugby Football League’s director of rugby, said on Friday he expects Bennett to stay on for the 2021 World Cup after “starting smiling during matches” and the veteran Australian admits he is enjoying his role.

“I love working with these guys,” he said. “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.”

Enforced changes means that Wigan second rower Joe Greenwood will become the 11th player to make his England debut in 2018 and that every member of the 24-man squad will get a taste of international rugby league.

Bennett has explained his decision to restrict St Helens centre Mark Percival to a solitary appearance against France, with Oliver Gildart and Jake Connor preferred for the Test series.

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

England Media Session – Village Hotel
Wayne Bennett has explained the absence of Mark Percival from the Test series (Martin Rickett/PA)

“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.”

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