Tonga v New Zealand Test: Wayne Bennett withdraws from role as Dean Young advisor

Tonga have lost the services of super coach Wayne Bennett ahead of their Test against the Kiwis with the veteran laid low by illness.

Wayne Bennett’s cameo as Tonga’s X-factor is over before it began with the super coach forced to withdraw from camp ahead of Saturday’s Test match against New Zealand.

News Corp can reveal Bennett has severed ties with Tonga due to illness in a blow for the emerging rugby league superpower as they prepare for a showdown with the Kiwis at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium.

With head coach Kristian Woolf unavailable due to his Super League commitments at St Helens, he had reached out to Bennett to act as an advisor to caretaker Dean Young, who is an assistant to Todd Payten at the Cowboys.

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Wayne Bennett has withdrawn from his role with Tonga. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Wayne Bennett has withdrawn from his role with Tonga. Picture: Steve Pohlner

Bennett famously helped New Zealand to World Cup glory in 2008 as an advisor to Steve Kearney and Woolf was hoping the 72-year-old could bring his talismanic touch to 2017 World Cup sensations Tonga.

But on the eve of Tonga’s clash with the Kiwi team they upset 28-22 in the 2017 World Cup to charge to the semi-final, Bennett confirmed he has pulled the pin on his seven-day stint with Mate Ma’a.

Bennett is not suffering from Covid, instead only battling the common cold which left him unable to travel to New Zealand with the Tongan team.

“I was going to spend a week with them in camp but unfortunately I won’t be going to New Zealand,” said Bennett, the Dolphins coach.

“I will stay at home on the farm watching them play.

“I have been sick, I didn’t think it would be fair on the players and myself if I travelled and put others at risk.”

Andrew Fifita of Tonga dances on stage during a media opportunity ahead of the International Rugby League test Match between New Zealand and Tonga. Picture: Phil Walter/Getty Images
Andrew Fifita of Tonga dances on stage during a media opportunity ahead of the International Rugby League test Match between New Zealand and Tonga. Picture: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Bennett has coached tier-one nations England and Australia – taking the Poms to the 2017 World Cup final – but he says he has no desire to one day lead Tonga in a full-time capacity.

Bennett and Young have a connection after the pair were player and coach in the Dragons’ 2010 premiership win.

“I won’t be doing it long-term, it was just a one-off idea,” he said.

“Kristian asked me if I would do it because he can’t come home and I said I would be happy to help out.

“I think the world of Dean Young, I’ve always had a lot of time for Dean, we won a premiership together at the Dragons, so I was happy to help out.

“Dean Young will do a good job.

“The plan was to help out like I did with Steve Kearney when he had the New Zealand job. We did a pretty good job there, the Kiwis ended up winning the World Cup.

“But I now won’t be going to this game and there’s no plan for me to go to the World Cup later this year.

“I will be busy preparing with the Dolphins (for their NRL entry in 2023).”

BRONCOS STAR CAUGHT IN TONGA-NSW TUG-OF-WAR

NSW Origin stars Daniel Tupou and Kotoni Staggs have both been selected to play for Tonga – on the same weekend they could play for the Blues.

In an international eligibility sensation, both Tupou and Staggs were chosen in Kristian Woolf’s 25-man Tongan squad on Wednesday.

Sharks battering ram Siosifa Talakai was named in the centres for Tonga and is also being seriously discussed as a bench option for game two by Fittler.

It comes just four days before NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler is due to select his team for Origin II on June 26 in Perth.

NSW stars Daniel Tupou (L) and Kotoni Staggs have been named in Tonga’s team for the Test against New Zealand. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
NSW stars Daniel Tupou (L) and Kotoni Staggs have been named in Tonga’s team for the Test against New Zealand. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Tonga is scheduled to play New Zealand next Saturday.

The Tongan players are emotionally torn and driven to take part in the match as it will be the first game since the devastating volcano that rocked the island nation in January.

Woolf has contacted Fittler to discuss the unique situation.

Woolf chose to pick the Blues duo in case Fittler overlooked them.

The pair are likely to make a call on their allegiance by the end of this week.

Tonga Squad

1. Tolotau Koula (Sea Eagles)

2. Daniel Tupou (Roosters)

3. Siosifa Talakai (Sharks)

4. Mosese Suli (Dragons)

5. Sione Katoa (Sharks)

6. Kotoni Staggs (Broncos)

7. Talatau Amone (Dragons)

8. Siosiua Taukieaho (Roosters)

9. Siliva Havili (Rabbitohs)

10. Addin Fonua-Blake (Warriors)

11. Sitili Tupouniua (Roosters)

12. Keaon Koloamatangi (Rabbitohs)

13. Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys)

14. Soni Luke (Panthers)

15. Haumole Olakau’atu (Sea Eagles)

16. Tevita Pangai jnr (Bulldogs)

17. Tevita Tatola (Rabbitohs)

18. Moeaki Fotuaika (Titans)

19. Will Penisini (Eels)

20. Isaiya Katoa (Panthers)

21. Andrew Fifita (Sharks)

22. Joe Ofahengaue (Wests Tigers)

23. Starford To’a (Wests Tigers)

24. Christian Tuipulotu (Sea Eagles)

25. Eliesa Katoa (Warriors)

MULITALO PUTS MAROONS BEHIND HIM

Cronulla winger Ronaldo Mulitalo has put his State of Origin eligibility scandal behind him after being named in New Zealand’s Test squad as one of eight new faces in the Kiwis.

Kiwis coach Michael Maguire named a strong 25-man squad on Wednesday ahead of Saturday week’s Test against Tonga in Auckland.

Mulitalo will join the Kiwis for the first time after he was dramatically ruled ineligible to play for Queensland just hours before making his Maroons debut in Game Two last year.

Mulitalo moved to Australia from New Zealand after his 13th birthday, making him ineligible to play State of Origin, and has since pledged his allegiance to the Kiwis.

Ronaldo Mulitalo’s Maroons debut was blocked on eligibility grounds. Picture: Josh Woning
Ronaldo Mulitalo’s Maroons debut was blocked on eligibility grounds. Picture: Josh Woning

Mulitalo will join Eels sensation Dylan Brown, Panthers duo Scott Sorensen and Moses Leota, Titans hooker Erin Clark, Broncos forward Jordan Riki, Eels backrower Marata Niukore and Cowboys bolter Griffin Neame as potential Kiwis debutants.

Brown looks set to partner Jahrome Hughes in the halves, signalling a potential end to Shaun Johnson’s Test career, with veteran Kieran Foran also in the squad.

Broncos comeback kid Te Maire Martin has secured a remarkable return to the Test arena three years after fearing his career was over due to a brain injury.

The Kiwis will have a red-hot team to face Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium and coach Michael Maguire said they were looking forward to playing in New Zealand.

“I know how much the black and white jersey means to these players,” he said.

“To finally return home after two years and play for your country in front of fans and whānau, this Test will be special.

Shaun Johnson’s international career may be over after he missed selection for the Test. Picture: Albert Perez/Getty Images
Shaun Johnson’s international career may be over after he missed selection for the Test. Picture: Albert Perez/Getty Images

“This squad has an exciting mix of fresh talent and experienced Kiwis having some of their best seasons. We have a strong spine of leaders throughout the group that play a crucial role in the team, especially with these new boys coming through.

“Some difficult decisions have had to be made, but it’s a positive sign of our depth in certain positions.

“With the quality of Kiwi talent on display throughout the NRL, we are in a strong place as we look to build a solid foundation ahead of the Rugby League World Cup come October.”

The Kiwis will boast NRL stars Hughes (Storm), Joey Manu (Roosters), James Fisher-Harris (Panthers), Isaiah Papali’i (Eels), Brandon Smith (Storm) and Joseph Tapine (Raiders).

KIWIS SQUAD

Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Storm)

Jesse Bromwich (Storm)

Kenneath Bromwich (Storm)

Dylan Brown (Eels)

Erin Clark (Titans)

James Fisher-Harris (Panthers)

Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles)

Peta Hiku (Cowboys)

Jahrome Hughes (Storm)

Moses Leota (Panthers)

Isaac Liu (Titans)

Joseph Manu (Roosters)

Te Maire Martin (Broncos)

Ken Maumalo (Wests Tigers)

Ronaldo Mulitalo (Sharks)

Griffin Neame (Cowboys)

Briton Nikora (Sharks)

Marata Niukore (Eels)

Isaiah Papali’i (Eels)

Jordan Rapana (Raiders)

Jordan Riki (Broncos)

Brandon Smith (Storm)

Scott Sorensen (Panthers)

Joseph Tapine (Raiders)

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Warriors)

Originally published as Tonga v New Zealand Test: Wayne Bennett withdraws from role as Dean Young advisor