Bennett gives Kiwis a boost with Isaako revival

Joel Gould |

New Zealand winger Jamayne Isaako is in career-best form ahead of the Pacific Cup final against Australia, and former Kiwis skipper Gary Freeman says Wayne Bennett has played a key role.

Dolphins player of the year Isaako has been outstanding for the Kiwis in both Tests of the Pacific Championships. 

He scored two tries and kicked seven goals in the 50-0 win over Samoa, then made two line breaks in the 36-18 loss to Australia last week, when he was one of his his side’s best.

The 27-year-old, who will play against the Kangaroos in Hamilton on Saturday, had an incredible season for the Dolphins, where he was the NRL’s leading try scorer (24 tries)  and points scorer (244 points).

That earned him a recall to the Kiwi side for the first time since 2019.

Bennett, who coached Isaako at Brisbane when he was NRL rookie of the year in 2018,  signed him at the Dolphins when Isaako’s career was on the rocks at the Titans.

Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett (left) with Jamayne Isaako.
Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett (left) has been instrumental in the outstanding form of Jamayne Isaako.

He thrived under Bennett, who picked him in all 24 NRL games this year.  

“I look at Isaako and how well he has played for New Zealand again and see Wayne Bennett’s hand in it,” Freeman told AAP.

“One thing Bennett does so well is he gets his players to believe in themselves and believe they can do their best for the team.

“Isaako is playing with ultimate belief. Once you have that belief from the coach you are very hard to stop.”

Former No.7 Freeman, who played 46 Tests for New Zealand, said Isaako was not the first New Zealand player to be ignited by a coach’s belief.

“The great Olsen Filipaina was chosen out of reserve grade to play Teat matches for us and played at his best, because we had a coach in Graham Lowe who believed in him the whole way through,” Freeman said.

“I see the same thing with Isaako at club level, and now it is filtering into his Test footy.

“If he makes a mistake he knows Bennett has backed him to be better next time. Isaako just backs himself every time and has done that throughout the season.

“I thought he was very good the other night for us in a losing team and I can’t wait to watch him play on Saturday.”