Blake Austin lifts lid on infamous Great Britain tour and incredible story behind wing

Aaron Bower

Blake Austin has revealed more details about Great Britain’s infamously disastrous 2019 tour – and shared the incredible story about how Wayne Bennett ended up selecting him to play on the wing.

Austin played twice during that Great Britain tour, and was a controversial pick in the eyes of many given how he was born in Australia. However, the former Warrington and Leeds half-back, speaking on James Graham’s The Bye Round Podcast, insisted he was proud when he got the call-up due to his English grandmother, and rejected that criticism over the merits of his selection.

“I don’t like getting compared to people,” he said. “I do have blood, nan is English.. people compared me to Rangi Chase, it’s not the same. I’m living in the country, I love the country, I love living here and I have blood, that’s the thing I struggled with a little bit.

“People asked me why I didn’t do it sooner, and that I was just trying to play Origin first.. and that’s a fair call. But I didn’t have the full connection until I lived there, that’s the time I thought it was appropriate to do it.”

Austin was one of several half-backs on the tour – and he revealed that as soon as the squad landed in the Southern Hemisphere, the likes of himself and Jake Trueman were almost immediately told their chances to play would be limited.

Austin said: “Wayne Bennett goes around every player individually and he tells them what kind of role they’re going to play on the tour. He went around every room, he got to Jake Trueman first and said ‘you’re a young kid, you’re not going to play, enjoy the experience’.

“George Williams, he said he’d try get him a game, Blake Austin.. not too sure where you’re going to get a game. Then he said to Jackson Hastings, ‘England have been crying out for a number seven, and you’re going to get every opportunity in the halves’. At the start of a six-week tour having a guy saying you’re not going to play and if I can find you a game, I will. That was a bit difficult.

“It split the group in a way where 17 guys knew they were going to play and the rest knew they were there just in case. I just wanted to prove myself to people but how do I do that? I’m basically on the p**s for the next six weeks.

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“We moved hotels a lot and I worked out you knew if you were going to play the next week based on who you roomed with. Wayne likes you to go out before the match on a tour because he doesn’t want you moping around the hotel.

“They’re only going to room you with someone who isn’t playing so you don’t come back intoxicated and wake them up, and every week I knew from my room-mate I wasn’t playing.

“I was with Daz (Clark) the first week and the second week we got split, and I knew one of us was playing. Then Daz was rooming with John Bateman and I was rooming with a squaddie!”

Austin did get a chance however later in the tour – but it wasn’t at half-back, it was on the wing. His selection there was arguably the most controversial aspect of the whole trip, and the way it came about almost beggars belief.

“I was in the warm-up at training and Wayne pulled me. He’s holding a footy and throwing it in the air, and I’m leaping off the ground to try and catch it.

“He’s just throwing them above my head and I’m catching them and he says, ‘what do you think about playing on the wing?’ – I said yeah man, why not, I’ll have a crack and do my best.

“Me and Lachlan Coote were the last two (backs) left, it came down to me and Lachie. He’d be better under the high ball but I thought in the back field, I could do a better job. In hindsight, should I have said put Lachie in? You’re never going to turn down a chance. I’m sad the way it happened but also so grateful.”

Austin did admit, though, to feeling some sadness that his only opportunity to play under Bennett was effectively out of position.

He said: “I’m shattered that my only experience with Wayne was as a winger. I tried my best. I knew I could have a crack but I couldn’t catch a ball.

“Part of me feels responsible for Wayne losing his job because there was a lot of talk afterwards about the circus of the tour, and Wayne didn’t take the Great Britain tour seriously. He used it for England for the next World Cup and I felt a part of that. But I loved every minute of it, and I tried my best.”

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