This weekend marks the beginning of the Rugby League Four Nations with Australia, England, Scotland and defending champions New Zealand all battling it out to take home the title.
Here is a team-by-team preview.
Ten-time World Cup winners and five-time Tri-Nations/Four Nations champions Australia head into the competition as favourites to take the trophy home. Australia’s dominance on the international stage has been clear for a prolonged period of time with only occasional defeats to the Kiwi’s preventing them from perfection. For former Australia centre and Queensland State of Origin Coach Mal Meninga it will be his first test in a competitive tournament and he will be looking to begin his international coaching career in similar fashion to many of his predecessors by winning silverware.
Meninga has named five potential debutants in his 21-man squad with James Maloney, Matt Moylan, Justin O’Neill, Jake Trbojevic and Jake Friend all potentially wearing the Australia jersey for the first time. Maloney has had a great season with Cronulla winning the NRL Grand Final and will offer Australia a lot in the final third. Moylan is a dangerous full-back while Justin O’Neill provides a lot of pace and power in out wide which the Kangaroos will certainly utilise.
Despite the new boys coming into the squad it’s Australia’s experienced men who will lead the side and are likely to make the difference in the big games. Jonathan Thurston is instrumental in the halves and can change a game at the flick of a switch. Thurston’s timing in the final third is near perfect and his kicking game will cause problems for any team. Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith will guide the Australian’s around the field and expect Greg Inglis to make an impact as he always does.
Australia are the number one side in the world despite losing out to New Zealand in the 2014 Four Nations. The Kangaroos will expect nothing less than to dominate the competition and to win their third Four Nations crown however it may be more difficult this year than it has been in the past.
Squad: Darius Boyd (Brisbane), Matt Moylan (Penrith), Valentine Holmes (Cronulla), Blake Ferguson (Sydney), Josh Mansour (Penrith), Josh Dugan (St George), Greg Inglis (Souths), Justin O’Neill (North Queensland), James Maloney (Cronulla), Michael Morgan (North Queensland), Cooper Cronk (Melbourne), Shannon Boyd (Canberra), David Klemmer (Canterbury), Matthew Scott (North Queensland), Jake Trbojevic (Manly), Aaron Woods (Wests), Cameron Smith (Melbourne), Jake Friend (Sydney), Boyd Cordner (Sydney), Tyson Frizell (St George), Matt Gillett (Brisbane), Sam Thaiday (Brisbane), Trent Merrin (Penrith)
Coach: Mal Meninga (Australia)
Key Player: Cooper Cronk
One to Watch: Aaron Woods
Wayne Bennett takes charge of his first competitive matches as England coach following his 6-40 warm-up victory over France in Avignon last weekend. Bennett is an experienced coach who is the most decorated in NRL history and will be looking to further his legacy by bringing a Four Nations title to England.
Of course, the Four Nations mark the return to international Rugby League for Sam Burgess, who will also captain the side. Sam was at his best the last time he wore the England jersey in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup and there is no doubting he will lead from the front and look to find the form he displayed three years ago. England’s forwards can definitely match the Kiwi’s and Aussies with a lot of them currently plying their trade in the NRL. James Graham, Mike Cooper, Elliot Whitehead and the Burgess twins will provide a huge amount of power up the middle and will look to dominate from the outset.
However, England’s backs may struggle to thrive in comparison with the forwards. Winger’s Ryan Hall and Jermaine McGillvary both struggled this season competing in the qualifiers with Leeds and Huddersfield respectively. Kallum Watkins was a sensation in 2015 but failed to find the form that saw him linked with numerous NRL sides last season. In the halves England lack international experience with Kevin Brown, George Williams and Luke Gale only having a total of eight England caps between them. As the most experienced half-back Gareth Widdop will need to step up on the biggest stage.
The obvious goal for the England side is to come away with the Four Nations title but they need to reach the final first – a feat they have managed in two Four Nations competitions before losing out to Australia.
Squad: Jonny Lomax (Saints), Stefan Ratchford (Warrington), Ryan Hall (Leeds), Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield), John Bateman (Wigan), Mark Percival (Saints), Dan Sarginson (Gold Coast), Kallum Watkins (Leeds), Gareth Widdop (St George), Kevin Brown (Widnes), George Williams (Wigan), Luke Gale (Castleford), George Burgess (Souths), Tom Burgess (Souths), Mike Cooper (St George), James Graham (Canterbury), Chris Hill (Warrington), Scott Taylor (Hull FC), Daryl Clark (Warrington), Josh Hodgson (Canberra), Sam Burgess (Souths), Liam Farrell (Wigan), Stevie Ward (Leeds), Elliot Whitehead (Canberra)
Coach: Wayne Bennett (Australia)
Key Player: Sam Burgess
One to Watch: Josh Hodgson
New Zealand head into this year’s Four Nations as the current champions following their 22-18 victory over Australia in 2014. England aren’t the only side who’ve had a change of coach since the last competition with Dave Kidwell now in charge of the Kiwi’s. Kidwell was the assistant to Stephen Kearney who left his role earlier this season. Kidwell’s first game in charge didn’t go exactly to plan as his side suffered a 26-6 defeat to Australia but he will be looking to avenge that defeat in the coming weeks.
The Kiwi’s main threat comes from half-back Shaun Johnson whose lightning quick feet help him slide through defences without being touched. Johnson also possesses an extremely strong passing and kicking game and will be allowed to express himself alongside the experienced head of Thomas Leuluai. Jason Nightingale’s finishing ability could be a key factor for New Zealand along with the pace of Shaun Kenny-Dowall in the centres.
In the forwards the Kiwi’s aren’t short of power. Experienced campaigners such as Adam Blair, Jesse Bromwich and Greg Eastwood will bring the ball up all day and will stand toe-to-toe with Scotland, England and Australia. Isaac Luke is a dynamic hooker who can exploit a quick play-the-ball but can often let his aggression get the better of him. Jason Taumalolo is a big loose-forward whose work rate in defence is hard to match.
As defending champions New Zealand will come into the tournament with the expectation of retaining their crown. However, with the Australians being as strong as they are and England improving by the game it will be a tough task for the Kiwi’s and Kidwell.
Squad: Jordan Kahu (Brisbane), Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith), David Fusitu’a (NZ Warriors), Jason Nightingale (St George), Jordan Rapana (Canberra), Gerard Beale (Cronulla), Solomone Kata (NZ Warriors), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Sydney), Te Maire Martin (Penrith), Shaun Johnson (NZ Warriors), Thomas Leuluai (Wigan), Jesse Bromwich (Melbourne), Adam Blair (Brisbane), Jarad Waerea-Hargreaves (Sydney), Isaac Luke (NZ Warriors), Lewis Brown (Manly), Tohu Harris (Melbourne), Manu Ma’u (Parramatta), Kevin Proctor (Melbourne), Joseph Tapine (Canberra), Greg Eastwood (Canterbury), James Fisher-Harris (Penrith), Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland), Martin Taupau (Manly).
Coach: David Kidwell (New Zealand)
Key Player: Isaac Luke
One to Watch: Shaun Johnson
Since the addition of a fourth nation to the competition Wales, France, Papua New Guinea and Samoa have all competed and this year it’s the turn of debutants Scotland. Steve McCormack’s side qualified for the Four Nations by narrowly winning the 2014 European Cup on points difference. The Bravehearts most recent competition didn’t end as well as they finished at the foot of the table in the 2015 European Cup but they did reach the quarter-finals in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup before a 40-4 defeat to eventual finalists New Zealand.
Scotland’s main man is experienced Huddersfield half-back Danny Brough. Brough has been a pivotal player for the Giants and Scotland and any attacking threat the Scots pose will likely come through this man. Huddersfield teammate Ryan Brierley will start alongside Brough and offers a greater running game than Brough. Expect Brierley to use his pace to cut through defences and try and make a name for himself on the international stage after scoring so regularly for Leigh in the Championship.
The Bravehearts squad actually has a strong Championship contingent who will be given the opportunity to prove themselves on the biggest stage. Danny Addy, who recently signed for Hull KR, has proven himself over the past few seasons with Bradford alongside Dale Ferguson. Ben Hellewell has had an excellent season for London Broncos while Liam Hood helped Leigh to promotion. Scotland do have two very clinical Super League wingers however in Matty Russell and Lewis Tierney if the Scots can get these two into try-scoring positions they will definitely get some points on the board.
There is no doubting that Scotland will have prepared well for this tournament and will be full of confidence however to get to the final will be too much to ask. If Scotland manage to win a game it would be a huge achievement for them and it will make the group stage very exciting but it is very unlikely. Scotland will look to put in some solid performances and use the competition as a stepping stone for the future.
Squad: Lachlan Coote (North Queensland), Matty Russell (Warrington), David Scott (Batley), Lewis Tierney (Wigan), Euan Aitken (St George), Ben Hellewell (London B), Kane Linnett (North Queensland), Ryan Brierley (Huddersfield), Danny Brough (Huddersfield), Callum Phillips (Workington), Sam Brooks (Widnes), Luke Douglas (Gold Coast), Ben Kavanagh (Bradford), Billy McConnachie (Ipswich), Kieran Moran (Hull KR), Sheldon Powe-Hobbs (Northern Pride), Adam Walker (Saints), Liam Hood (Leigh), Ryan Maneely (Halifax), Frankie Mariano (Unattached), Brett Phillips (Workington), Danny Addy (Bradford), Tyler Cassel (Wests), Dale Ferguson (Bradford).
Coach: Steve McCormack (England)
Key Player: Danny Brough
One to Watch: Lachlan Coote
- Australia vs Scotland – Friday, 28th October – 8pm – KC Lightstream Stadium, Hull.
- England vs New Zealand – Saturday, 29th October – 2:30pm – John Smith’s Stadium, Huddersfield.
- England vs Scotland – Saturday, 5th November – 5:30pm – Ricoh Arena, Coventry.
- New Zealand vs Australia – Saturday, 5th November – 8pm – Ricoh Arena, Coventry.
- New Zealand vs Scotland – Friday, 11th November – 8pm – The Zebra Claims Stadium, Workington.
- England vs Australia – Sunday, 13th November – 2pm – London Olympic Stadium, London.
- The Final – Sunday, 20th November – 2:30pm – Anfield, Liverpool.
The opening fixture of the 2016 Four Nations sees Australia face Scotland in Hull before England host New Zealand in Huddersfield the following day.
The second round of fixtures is a double-header at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry which is new ground for international Rugby League as the RFL continue to grow and develop the game in new areas. Coventry Bears have competed in League One for the past year and the international double-header could be the catalyst for further growth in the area. England vs Scotland kicks off a 5:30pm before Australia and New Zealand go head-to-head at 8pm.
Workington’s Zebra Claims Stadium hosts the first game of round three on Friday 11th November as Scotland face New Zealand. The London Olympic Stadium is the venue for the final group game, as the RFL continue to try and take the sport to the South, with England facing Australia.
In line with the new venues Liverpool FC’s Anfield stadium will host the final which is expected to be a sell-out.
It is hard to look past the Australians as they always seem too quick, strong and clever for the rest of the international sides. It is also very difficult to see Scotland winning a game they may but in some valiant performances but they simply don’t have the talent to compete with the other three sides. England’s opening game against New Zealand is therefore crucial as the winner is likely to earn 2nd place behind the Australians and a place in the final. Personally, I think England will come out on top against the Kiwis but will fall just short in the final against the Kangaroos.