Wayne Bennett can turn England into world's best - Sam Tomkins

By Jonathan JurejkoBBC Sport
Sam Tomkins
Sam Tomkins is aiming to re-establish himself as England's first-choice full-back after rejoining Wigan

England can be the world's leading Test side for the first time in more than 40 years under new head coach Wayne Bennett, says full-back Sam Tomkins.

England have not been the world's leading side since Great Britain claimed the World Cup in 1972.

Australian Bennett, 66, has signed a two-year deal to replace Steve McNamara, whose contract expired.

"The gap between us, Australia and New Zealand is smaller than ever," said Tomkins.

England are currently third in the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) world rankings behind New Zealand and Australia.

Bennett is the most successful coach in NRL history, with seven Grand Final wins.

"His experience will help us," added Tomkins. "Becoming the world's leading side is the target, 100%."

'McNamara should be commended'

The Rugby Football League announced on Tuesday that McNamara's five-year reign would not be continuing, despite the 44-year-old leading England to victory over New Zealand.

Bennett, who will lead England through the 2016 Four Nations and 2017 World Cup, was announced as his successor just hours later.

"We've had the potential and players to become the world's number one side but we've not quite performed," Tomkins, 26, told BBC Sport.

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"Wayne Bennett is a big signing. He's been proven in the NRL for a number of years.

"He's got all the experience in the world so there's no reason he can't bring that to us and push us on."

The Wigan player added: "Steve McNamara has done a great job and he should be commended.

"He's leaving the England set-up in a much better place than he found it and that's testament to him."

'I want to be England's first-choice full-back'

Tomkins has rejoined Wigan for the new Super League campaign, determined to prove he deserves to be England's first-choice full-back.

Leeds Rhinos' Zak Hardaker, the 2015 Man of Steel, took the role in the Test series against New Zealand after Tomkins was ruled out after knee surgery.

Tomkins' absence meant McNamara did not have to choose between the pair, or find an alternative role for one of the men.

"Zak played there, I was injured, and it's good we've got healthy competition," said Tomkins, who believes he will be fit enough to make his Wigan return in May.

"But I want to play full-back - no doubt about it."

Can Tomkins return push Wigan over the line?

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Wigan begin the new campaign on Thursday hoping to go one step further than the back-to-back Grand Final defeats they have suffered in the past two seasons.

"We've got a very strong squad, playing in two Grand Finals and coming close is heartbreaking," said Tomkins. "I had to watch it as a fan and this season we will be aiming to rectify that.

"Hopefully the team will be in good stead when I come back from injury and my experience and leadership can give them that boost."

'I missed Super League rivalries'

Tomkins returned to Wigan after spending two years at New Zealand Warriors, leaving the NRL with a year left on the three-year deal he initially signed.

"I missed playing the big games - the likes of St Helens, Warrington, Leeds - those big rivalry games. You don't get the same atmosphere in the NRL," he said.

Watch the best moments of the 2015 Rugby League season

"Over there I had to adapt my game to how other players play and hopefully that will give me some new tools to perform in Super League."

BBC Radio 5 live sports extra has live coverage of two fixtures on the opening weekend of the 2016 Super League season.

You can listen to defending champions Leeds Rhinos hosting Warrington Wolves on Thursday (19:30 GMT), before Wigan Warriors' home game against Catalan Dragons on Friday.

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