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Bentley in blue

Bentley in blue
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Eyeballing the Stade Ernest-Wallon turf from across the stadium Kane Bentley is counting down the seconds in his head until kick-off.

It is an international clash between New Zealand and France and he’s fired up for good reason.

This is what the Auckland-born hooker has been waiting for, the chance to represent his country on the world stage as part of the 2009 Four Nations competition.

But tonight he won’t be running out next to his fellow Kiwis like Benji Marshall and Issac Luke, and he certainly won’t be taking part in the pre-match haka.

Instead he’s facing it, shoulder to shoulder with his brothers in blue, as part of the France team.

“I felt like I should be doing the haka,” Bentley recalls with a chuckle.

“Not joining their haka, but doing one back to them since we were coming up against them.

“But through respect I knew I couldn’t do that.

“I had already had one game for France at that stage, but my brother Andrew came in and that was our first game together for France, which was amazing.

“It felt weird, but I only knew the Kiwi boys from seeing them on TV and stuff – I didn’t know any of them personally – which made it easier.”

Born to a Samoan father and a half-Scottish, half-Maori mother – who were both born in New Zealand – Kane Bentley has spent 23 of his 28 years so far living in France and therefore qualifies to represent them.

He speaks fluent French, has a fiancé, Elsa, who hails from Perpignan in the country’s south and is a far cry from the ‘plastic internationals’ which many believe make a mockery of international league.

His coach in that game against New Zealand, Englishman Bobbie Goulding, is quick to point out that Bentley was among the most abundantly patriotic players in the squad that night.

“Kane for me was as passionate as Charles de Gaulle,” Goulding says.

“He loves the French culture, he’s fluent in the language and is as French as a Frenchman; simple.

“It meant the world to him putting on that jersey.”

Kane Bentley, Andrew Bentley, France rugby league, Bobbie Goulding, Toulouse Olympique
The Bentley brothers (Andrew left and Kane right) after taking the field for France against the Kiwis in the 2009 Four Nations. Credit: photosport.nz

For Bentley the chance hardly required a second thought.

“When the opportunity came up to play for France, Andrew and I didn’t really hesitate. Not everyone can play for France and we had that opportunity,” Bentley says.

“We played at U-16 level for France, U-21 level for France, and then for the France top team, and man, it’s always been an honour to play for France.

“I really like France, it is a good country, different to New Zealand, but since we were young France have welcomed us and we appreciate what they have done for us.

“Even though we weren’t born there we care about the place and were honoured to represent it.”

 

It was rugby league which took the Bentley family to France in the first place, as dad Andrew senior looked to continue his playing career with the La Reole club in the south, following a season with Oldham in England.

The initial plan was only to stay for 12 months, but more than 20 years later they continue to call France home. Kane was just six years old when they settled there and doesn’t remember any other way of life.

Even after moving to Europe rugby league was the only game for the Bentley brothers, spurred on by Andrew senior’s obsession with the game.

“I had league in the blood, through my brothers playing when they were young and my dad playing,” Bentley adds.

“New Zealand was a rugby playing country, both league and union, so it was natural that I played league.

“When I was younger we always used to watch footy with dad, all the time, I mean all the time, it was training then watching footy.

“Dad played for Richmond and Ponsonby back in the day in Auckland. I was five when he headed overseas so I never played before we left New Zealand, but my brothers played at the Ponsonby Ponies.”

The rugby league journey has since seen Kane play in the Super League with Les Catalans, taking the field there alongside Kiwi legend Stacey Jones in 2007 when they made the Challenge Cup final, eventually going down to St Helens 30-8.

Stints followed at French clubs Pia Donkeys, Lézignan Sangliers and English second division side Dewsbury Rams.

Last year Bentley also spent the English off-season playing league in Massachusetts, USA, helping the Boston Thirteens to their first USARL Championship

“I really enjoyed it, I had always wanted to go to America to play footy and to discover the country. I like America a lot.

“Last year our French season finished in May and the USA season started in June and finished in August. So it was perfect timing for me to go over and play there.

“I would be keen to go back, but this year the scheduling won’t work for me because our season goes from March to September so I can’t make it.

“You can’t really compare the level to the UK or France because their competition is an amateur competition. You have players coming from everywhere, people just learning the game.

“We were training and we had dudes just coming up saying ‘hey can I train with you guys?’, then if he was good he played on the weekend.

“But we also had (former NRL players) Dustin Cooper and Liam Georgetown in our team.

“In America the dudes are pretty big and skilful, but they are not good in a technical sense. But that’s why they get these foreigners over to coach and play, to help them improve.”

Kane Bentley, Boston 13s, Boston 9s, USA rugby league
Kane spent a season with the Boston 13s in the USA comp, winning the national championship last year. Credit: boston13s.com

This season Bentley will play alongside big brother Andrew with Toulouse Olympique who compete in English third division competition League 1.

“Toulouse are really keen to go up in Super League one day; that’s their project,” Bentley says.

“It starts this year, we wanted to go straight up to the second division but the governing body said no.

“We have to make our way up, but if we can prove ourselves then we can make it.”

Rugby league is a full-time job for Bentley, despite the level he is playing at, and he admits that at 28 years of age his priorities and goals as a player are changing.

“I have always dreamed of playing in the NRL…but you reach a point…I am getting older now,” he says.

“I played Super League with my brother at Catalans. We had opportunities to go to other clubs as well, but to be honest I am happy where I am right now, they treat us well and when you are happy at a club that’s what matters.”

 

While playing in the top club competitions isn’t keeping Bentley awake at night, cracking the international stage and playing at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup is a goal.

He hasn’t been selected by France since 2013 and accepts his time representing Les Chanticleers is in all likelihood over.

But thanks to his unique cultural makeup he could conceivably still take the field for New Zealand, Samoa or Scotland in the future.

Where big brother Andrew, 30, decides to go will play a big part in the next international step, with both keen to represent their Scottish heritage if given the opportunity.

Toulouse Olympique, Kane Bentley, UK Super League, France rugby league
Kane in action for Toulouse Olympique. Credit: Rieu-Patey Franck Photographie

“We are not closing the door, we can play for all three of those nations,” Bentley says.

“I have always dreamed about playing for New Zealand, which is normal, but also always dreamed of playing for Samoa and Scotland too.

“I have been in contact with Scotland along with my brother and they wanted to know a bit more about our heritage to see if we are eligible to play for them.

“We are eligible because my mum has a British passport.

“I said to them ‘if you guys take us on, man we are keen to represent our heritage and our blood on the Scottish side.’

“It has been about two years since we played for France, just because the coach gave opportunities to other players. The Scotland opportunity has come up and we can’t close doors.

“If someone wants you and someone else doesn’t, then what do you do?

“To this day if I had an opportunity to play for the Kiwis I would. I haven’t played for a country that represents my blood and my family.

“Heck man, if anyone gets an opportunity to play for the Kiwis then who wouldn’t take it? It’s common sense.”

Compared to many other sports rugby league has relaxed eligibility rules, which is exactly what will potentially allow the Bentleys to represent two different countries across their careers while also being eligible for a further two.

They won’t be the first or last to do it. Kiwis such as Frank Pritchard, Fui Fui Moi Moi and Zeb Taia have all taken advantage of it to extend their representative careers post New Zealand.

The rules are the subject of much debate, and at times ridicule, and there are examples – such as the Italy squad for the 2013 World Cup, which was put together almost entirely of players based outside of Italy, many of whom had never even set for in the country – which do raise eyebrows.

But while league continues to slowly develop outside of traditional strongholds Australia, New Zealand and England, Bentley believes it is a positive.

“I think it is good, rugby league worldwide…there isn’t much of it, and I think it is pretty good because it gives opportunities to players who otherwise wouldn’t get them, and the teams benefit from that experience too.

“In Australia they have good players who will never be good enough to play for Australia, but they maybe can play for Italy and take all that experience and passion to help them grow.

“For me I am not good enough to play for the Kiwis, but France called me and Scotland called me, so why wouldn’t I pick up?”

For now it remains up in there air, but if Scotland decide they are good enough to play for them, the Bentley boys could be set for another meeting with the Kiwis at the end-of-year Four Nations tournament in the United Kingdom.

 

Corey Rosser

Corey Rosser

Corey Rosser is the editor of kiwileaguecentral.com and the New Zealand Correspondent for NRL.com.

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