Mal Meninga backs England coach Wayne Bennett for 2017 World Cup challenge

Wayne Bennett is the most successful coach in rugby league history
Wayne Bennett is the most successful coach in Australian rugby league history

Australia head coach Mal Meninga believes England can challenge for next year's World Cup and backs Wayne Bennett to take them forward.

Bennett, 66, became head coach in February but England failed to reach the final in the Four Nations.

They were beaten by New Zealand and Australia, who host next year's World Cup along with Papua New Guinea.

"Don't write off England, they are not far off it. Wayne knows how to put a team together," Meninga said.

"If they start the World Cup off on the right foot and get consistency they will be hard to beat."

Four Nations table
England beat Scotland but lost a close game with New Zealand before being well beaten by Australia

The World Cup begins in October 2017 and England will look to improve on their run to the semi-finals under Steve McNamara at the last edition in 2013, which was won by Australia.

Bennett is the most successful coach in Australian rugby league history, with seven Grand Final wins.

But he has been criticised for his handling of the media during the Four Nations and was critical of his side after Sunday's 36-18 defeat by Australia, saying they "self destructed" at times.

"Wayne is right in that he has the players. It's about their self-belief and coming up with the right decision under pressure," said Meninga, whose side meet New Zealand in Saturday's Four Nations final at Anfield.

"Look at their forward pack, they are outstanding players in their own right. The team is not without talent, it's a matter of how they can get together as a group and play for one another when they put that jersey on. I believe Wayne is the right man to take it forward."

Meninga said last month that Bennett wanted his job but could not coach Australia for a third time because his job as Brisbane Broncos head coach prevented him from taking on the role full-time.

The 56-year-old, who says the pair "don't talk", said Bennett had "great man-management skills".

"He has had a lot of success and I've been coached by him many times," Meninga said."He knows how to get the most from players and the players have to believe that."

Meninga's side lost to New Zealand in the 2014 Four Nations final and the two sides have each lifted the trophy twice over the four previous tournaments.

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