2017 League One Cup draw made

Whitehaven and Workington Town will meet in a cup competition for the first time since 2013 after drawing each other in the opening round of the League One Cup. Both Cumbrian sides suffered relegation from the Championship last season and as a result will compete in this season’s competition.

Reigning champions Keighley Cougars, who beat York City Knights in last year’s final at Bloomfield Road, will start their defence against Doncaster.

York will host North Wales Crusaders, who won the inaugural competition in 2015, in the opening round. Rochdale Mayfield will represent the National Conference League after winning the 2016 Premier League title and they will host Barrow Raiders in the first round.

League One’s newest side Toronto Wolfpack won’t compete in the tournament.

The first round sees the sides split into two pools with pool A containing ‘northern’ sides while pool B features the ‘southern’ sides. The games will be played on the weekend of 18th-19th February.

Here is the draw in full:

Pool A

  • Rochdale Mayfield vs Barrow Raiders
  • Hunslet RLFC vs Newcastle Thunder
  • Keighley Cougars vs Doncaster RLFC
  • Whitehaven vs Workington Town
  • York City Knights vs North Wales Crusaders

Pool B

  • Oxford RL vs Coventry Bears
  • South Wales Ironmen vs London Skolars
  • Hemel Stags vs University of Gloucestershire All Golds
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UFC 205: Aftermath and Implications

At UFC 205 history was made as Conor McGregor became the first fighter to ever hold titles at two different weights simultaneously as he knocked out Eddie Alvarez in the 2nd round to add the UFC Lightweight title to his featherweight crown.

However, it wasn’t just inside the octagon that history was being made as the UFC held their first ever event in New York with the most famous combat arena Madison Square Garden hosting the event.

One man, two titles

Following the events of UFC 205 it looks like Dana White and his UFC backroom staff will need to assemble their army as they now have the difficult task of prising one of Conor McGregor’s UFC titles away from the first fighter to ever hold two titles at different weights simultaneously.

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McGregor celebrates winning the UFC Lightweight title

 

White, and the UFC, made it clear in the build-up to UFC 205 that if McGregor won the UFC Lightweight title that he would need to relinquish his new title immediately or vacate his UFC Featherweight title which he won back at UFC 194 with his thirteen second knockout of Jose Aldo.

With a difference of opinions on the title situation following UFC 205 discussions between both parties are obviously needed but the overriding issue is can McGregor defend two titles at the same time? The Irish fighter is adamant he can often referring to himself as the most active fighter in the UFC.

McGregor has helped the company climb to new heights with UFC 205 smashing multiple records for the company with UFC President White going as far as saying “Jesus would have to fight the Devil to beat that.”

It’s hard to see the UFC carrying out their threats of removing one of McGregor’s titles with him being their most valuable asset at the moment but only time will tell whether we will get the notorious one defending his crowns at both weight divisions.

What’s next for McGregor?

Even with the issue of McGregor defending two titles still being discussed there are still several options for McGregor’s next bout.

At UFC 200, Jose Aldo came away with the Interim Featherweight Championship after going the distance with Frankie Edgar which means if McGregor was to defend his Featherweight title a rematch with Aldo to unify the titles would be the first, and most logical, option. Aldo has recently voiced his displeasure at the power and sway that McGregor holds within the UFC and has made it clear he will leave the company if he doesn’t get his match for the Featherweight title.

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McGregor knocks out Aldo after 13 seconds at UFC 194

 

But it’s McGregor’s newest title which brings more options. Former champion Alvarez will want a rematch but given the convincing fashion in which McGregor took the title from him it is unlikely to see Alvarez being gifted the opportunity to regain the championship.

Khabib Nurmagomedov extended his unbeaten record to 24-0 at on the preliminary card at UFC 205 with a dominant victory over Michael Johnson which saw the Russian utilise his devastating ground game to his advantage once again. The result meant that Nurmagomedov overtook Tony Ferguson as the #1 contender in the Lightweight division despite Ferguson overcoming former champion Rafael Dos Anjos a fortnight ago.

Both Ferguson and Nurmagomedov would offer tough first title defences for the Irishman. While Ferguson will think, he has earned a shot by knocking off former champ Dos Anjos a McGregor vs Khabib fight is more likely with the Russian still being unbeaten. Nurmagomedov will cause McGregor serious issues on the ground but he must take the Irishman to the floor something that Alvarez couldn’t manage.

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Khabib Nurmagomedov put in a dominant display against Michael Johnson

 

Finally, McGregor’s little detour between each of his titles saw his face-off with Nate Diaz at UFC 196 and UFC 202 and currently Diaz is ranked #5 contender in the Lightweight division and with both men teasing the trilogy match in their press conferences following UFC 202 we could see them do battle once again this time for the Lightweight title.

 

Currently, the Lightweight division is more stacked and hotly contested than the Featherweight division which is why, if McGregor does need to vacate a title, he may choose to relinquish his Featherweight crown and make the move up to Lightweight permanently as champion.

Rematch on the cards?

Tyrone Woodley was successful in his first welterweight title defence against Stephen Thompson but it wasn’t as convincing as he would have liked as he retained his title following a majority draw. Two judges had the tie scored level at 47-47 while the third adjudged that Woodley had edged the bout 48-47.

With the fight being judged so closely there is no doubting the UFC will consider the possibility of a rematch with White even saying in the post-fight press conference that a rematch will be made. It would be silly for the UFC not to put these two men in the cage together again after their fight of the night performance.

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Woodley and Thompson battle it out for the UFC Welterweight title

 

Former champion Robbie Lawler has yet to sign for another fight since he was knocked out by Woodley at UFC 201 and will expect a chance to regain his crown after two successful title defences while champion including the 2015 Fight of the Year against Rory MacDonald back at UFC 189.

Brazilian Demian Maia could be given the opportunity at main eventing the next time the Welterweight title is defended after racking up six consecutive victories including wins over Matt Brown and Carlos Condit.

In the build-up to UFC 205 Woodley had a few verbal spars with UFC Featherweight and Lightweight champion McGregor which has led to people ponder whether the UFC would let McGregor challenge for an unprecedented third title. McGregor has fought in the UFC at Welterweight in his two bouts with Diaz and while the bout would undoubtedly generate huge amounts of money for the company it is extremely unlikely that they will allow him to challenge for another title without defending either the Featherweight or Lightweight title first.

Four Nations 2016: England 16-17 New Zealand – Match Report

Shaun Johnson’s 65th minute drop-goal was the difference at the John Smiths Stadium as New Zealand edged out England.

Ryan Hall’s try following a spectacular pass from Gareth Widdop had pulled England back level along with Widdop’s conversion.

Jordan Rapana crossed for a try in either half and Johnson scored a 75-yard interception in the first minute of the second half to make it a difficult afternoon for Wayne Bennett’s men.

Hometown boy Jermaine McGillvary powered over following Johnson’s try to keep England in the game but the home side never regained the lead once the Kiwis got ahead.

England had set the pace early on as Widdop sank two penalty goals inside the first ten minutes.

New Zealand’s victory means they now sit 2nd in the Four Nations table behind Australia who they face next weekend in the double-header at the Ricoh Arena. England will face Scotland with both sides looking to get off the mark in this year’s competition.

Dave Kidwell named the same Kiwi side that fell to a 26-6 defeat to Australia a fortnight ago.

However, Bennett welcomed back players from both Warrington and Wigan who were rested in England’s 6-40 victory over France last weekend. Luke Gale made his competitive international debut alongside Widdop in the halves while Jonny Lomax was picked at full-back over Stefan Ratchford. Wigan duo Liam Farrell and George Williams missed out.

It was also Sam Burgess’ first Rugby League international since New Zealand knocked England out of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup with Johnson’s last minute try in the semi-finals.

Predicting a tight game England seized the chance to take the lead in the opening minutes when Widdop slotted over a penalty after Kevin Proctor was penalised for holding down. Widdop doubled the lead eight minutes later with another penalty goal.

England continued to control the game and created some chances as McGillvary came close before James Graham had a close-range effort disallowed for a double movement, the correct decision by video referee Bernard Sutton.

The Kiwis got on the scoreboard with ten minutes of the first half remaining as Jordan Kahu converted a penalty after Elliot Whitehead knocked the ball from Isaac Lukes hands. Widdop would miscue the resulting kick-off and punt the ball dead allowing New Zealand to apply pressure to the England line and they took advantage.

Thomas Leuluai, Johnson and Kahu sent the ball through hands with clinical precision and it finally found Rapana who planted the ball down in the corner, Proctors decoy run creating the space. Kahu missed the conversion, however.

In search of a quick response in the early stages of the second half Widdop attempted to throw the ball wide but Johnson read the pass and raced 75-yards, the perfect start to the second forty for New Zealand. Kahu converted.

If Widdop’s passing was slightly off Whitehead’s certainly wasn’t as he helped England get back into the game. The Canberra back-rower’s long pass wide found McGillvary who cut inside and powered over the line in front of his hometown. Widdop converted.

The game began to open up as defences became tired England failed to wrap up the ball and Rapana burst through from the halfway line before rounding Lomax almost effortlessly to score. Kahu hit the post with the conversion.

Midway through the half England pulled themselves level. Gale found Widdop before the St George half-back flicked an outrageous pass over his head and straight into the arms of Hall who, in similar fashion to McGillvary before him, forced his way over. Widdop then converted from the touchline making it 16-16.

With fifteen minutes still left Johnson surprised everyone by kicking a drop-goal from ten metres out to edge the Kiwis back in front and in the end it would prove crucial. Widdop did attempt a drop-goal from 35-yards late on but skewed his effort wide before Sam Burgess dropped the ball in England’s last attacking set.

England: Lomax, McGillvary, Watkins, Sarginson, Hall; Widdop, Gale; Hill, Hodgson, Graham, Bateman, Whitehead, S. Burgess.

Interchanges: T. Burgess, G. Burgess, Cooper, Clark.

New Zealand: Kahu, Nightingale, Kata, Kenny-Dowall, Rapana; Leuluai, Johnson; Bromwich, Luke, Waerea-Hargreaves, Proctor, Harris, Taumalolo.

Interchanges: Brown, Taupau, Ma’u, Blair.

Referee: R. Hicks Touch Judges: J. Child & A. Elliot Video Referee: B. Sutton

Attendance: 24,070.

Four Nations 2016: England vs New Zealand – Preview

Last year England and New Zealand went to battle in a terrific three-game test series which England narrowly won in the final game.

Now, as the Four Nations gets underway the English and the Kiwis are set to do battle again at Huddersfield John Smiths Stadium in what will be a crucial game following Australia’s 54-12 victory over Scotland on Friday.

Team News

Wayne Bennett has chosen Castleford half-back Luke Gale over Wigan’s George Williams after Gale’s debut last weekend in a warm-up game against France. Fellow Wigan

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Gale will start

teammate Liam Farrell has also been left out with Elliot Whitehead and John Bateman occupying the second-row. Jonny Lomax will also start at full-back over Warrington’s Stefan Ratchford.

 

New Zealand aren’t expected to make any changes from the side who lost 26-6 a fortnight ago to Australia. Gerard Beale and Greg Eastwood are the two men to drop from the original 19-man squad.

Preview

Even though England managed to narrowly edge out the Kiwi’s in last year’s three-game test series it is almost impossible to favour one team. New Zealand do come into the game on the back of a 26-6 loss to Australia which may have dampened their spirits whereas England earned a comfortable 6-40 victory over France in Avignon. With both sides evenly matched it is likely to be a terrible mistake or a moment of magic which will decide this game.

Bennett has made the call to start Gale over Williams despite Williams featuring in last year’s test series. Gale, who has had a terrific season with Castleford, made his England debut last weekend against France and put in a solid performance however it is yet to be seen whether he has the quality to perform on the international stage against a side as strong as the Kiwi’s. He will be accompnanied in the halves by Gareth Widdop who is now England’s most experienced half and will need to take on the responsibility of organising his side.

While Gale and Widdop may take time to gel Thomas Leuluai and Shaun Johnson should already be accustomed to each other. Leuluai will take the role of organiser and is an experienced and composed player in the halves. Johnson is the creative spark who can turn a game on its head with one simple sidestep if England give the Warriors half-back room he will glide straight through England’s defensive line as he did in the World Cup semi-final three years ago.

Down the middle a tonne of quality NRL forwards will clash with England closing the gap in this department in recent years. James Graham, Elliot Whitehead and the Burgess trio offer England an immense amount of power and aggression which proved dividend last year. However, the Kiwis will match the English in the pack with the likes of Kevin Proctor, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Adam Blair and captain Jesse Bromwich. Jason Taumololo was the top metre-maker in the NRL last season his battle with Sam Burgess at thirteen will be key.

Josh Hodgson has had a sensational season with Canberra and is possibly the most rounded hooker in the world at the moment and in Daryl Clark England have a hooker who is lethal against a tiring defence. Isaac Luke will start at hooker for New Zealand and if he manages to keep his cool he will be instrumental.

Likely Line-Ups

England: Lomax, McGillvary, Watkins, Sarginson, Hall; Widdop, Gale; Hill, Hodgson, Graham, Whitehead, Bateman, S. Burgess.

Interchanges: Clark, G. Burgess, T. Burgess, Cooper.

New Zealand: Kahu, Nightingale, Kata, Kenny-Dowall, Rapana; Leuluai, Johnson; Bromwich, Luke, Waerea-Hargreaves, Proctor, Harris, Taumalolo.

Interchanges: Brown, Taupau, Ma’u, Blair.

Last Five Meetings

  • England 20-14 New Zealand – Test Match – 14th November 2015.
  • England 2-9 New Zealand – Test Match – 7th November 2015.
  • England 26-12 New Zealand – Test Match – 1st November 2015.
  • New Zealand 16-14 England – Four Nations – 8th November 2014.
  • England 18-20 New Zealand – World Cup – 23rd November 2013.

Thoughts

With Australia comfortably beating Scotland last night and expected to win all of their games it means that this opening game is pivotal for both England and New Zealand as the team who wins is likely to reach the final.

Personally, I believe England will come on top in the forward battle with the likes of Graham, Whitehead and the Burgess’ experienced against their NRL counterparts however in the backs New Zealand have the advantage. Johnson and Leuluai are much more experienced than Gale and Widdop. Centres Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Solomone Kata could cause Kallum Watkins and Dan Sarginson serious issues out wide depending on the opportunities that come their way.

However, I do think that Bennett will have prepared England for all the threats the Kiwis have to offer and England, in similar style to last year, will come away with a narrow victory.

Prediction: England 26-22 New Zealand.

Four Nations 2016: Australia 54-12 Scotland – Match Report

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Despite suffering a 54-12 at the hands of a rampant Australia side Scotland showed that they are aptly nicknamed as the Bravehearts put in a valiant performance in the first ever meeting between the sides.

Australia were always favourites and controlled the game throughout but Scotland made it clear they aren’t just here to make up the numbers in the 2016 Four Nations.

Cooper Cronk and Josh Mansour both grabbed first half doubles with Blake Ferguson and James Maloney also crossing in the first forty. Ryan Brierley, on debut, managed to score in the closing stages of the first half to make sure the Scots didn’t go into the break scoreless.

Josh Dugan scored early in the second half however this was soon cancelled out when Ben Kavanagh powered over. Tyson Frizell, Michael Morgan and Jake Trbojevic all scored in the final fifteen minutes to seal a comfortable victory for Mal Meninga’s side.

Meninga chose to rest some of the Kangaroos key players with Greg Inglis, Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott all missing the game. James Maloney, Matt Moylan, Jake Trbojevic, Jake Friend and Justin O’Neill all debuted.

Steve McCormack also picked six debutants in his Scotland side with Brierley, Lachlan Coote, Billy McConnachie, Sheldon Powe-Hobbs and Wigan’s Lewis Tierney all making their first international appearances.

It didn’t take long for Australia to slice through the Scotland defence as Blake Ferguson took advantage of some quick hands from the scrum and outpaced Ryan Brierley.

Cameron Smith soon emphasised why he’s the best hooker in the world when he jumped from behind the play-the-ball and put a low kick back across himself which nobody in the stadium saw coming except Melbourne and Queensland teammate Cooper Cronk who finished well.

Two tries in quick succession followed for the Kangaroos as Cronk found full-back Matt Moylan on an inside ball and Moylan in-turn found James Maloney who, had started and, finished the move under the posts. Tyson Frizell broke from the halfway line before finding Cronk in support who scored his second in six minutes.

Scotland’s defence was working hard and hooker Liam Hood put in a great hit on Moylan to raise Scotland spirits but they were soon brought back down when Moylan threw a long ball which allowed Josh Mansour to cross.

Australia capatalised on another Scotland error when Maloney managed to step through the line before finding an onrushing Moylan. Lewis Tierney did well to close Moylan down but the Penrith man found Mansour who managed to pull off an acrobatic finish under pressure from Danny Brough.

Scotland had created some half chances but Dale Ferguson and Danny Addy had failed to collect the ball but Steve McCormack’s side did get on the scoreboard just before the break. Brough’s neat low kick was flicked by Smith but it fell straight in the path of Brough’s Huddersfield teammate Brierley who planted the ball down to score on his Scotland debut. Brough converted but Australia went into the interval with a comfortable 30-6 lead.

However, Australia started the second half in similar fashion to the first as Cronk put Josh Dugan through and the centre managed to step around Lachlan Coote before scoring. The Kangaroos pressure continued and Addy could have been sent to the bin when he jumped on an Australia play-the-ball from an offside position however referee Ben Thaler decided against it.

Brough soon halted the Australia pressure when he shot out of the line and intercepted Moylan’s pass but the half-back didn’t have the pace to reach the line. Scotland did take advantage from the resulting set though as Ben Kavanagh crashed over on the back of a short-ball from Adam Walker.

Tyson Frizell was lucky not to be sent for ten when he narrowly missed Tierney with a swinging arm and the second-rower continued to make his presence felt moments later when he shrugged off Sheldon Powe-Hobbs to score from close-range.

Maloney and Moylan linked up well throughout and they combined again with ten minutes remaining before the ball eventually found Michael Morgan who cantered over the line unchallenged. Australia reached the fifty-point mark when Trent Merrin broke through the line before finding Jake Trbojevic who crossed for his first international try.

England face New Zealand tomorrow at Huddersfield’s John Smiths Stadium in the second game of the first round.

Australia: Moylan, Mansour, O’Neill, Dugan, Ferguson; Maloney, Cronk; Woods, Smith, Klemmer, Thaiday, Frizell, Trbojevic.

Interchanges: Friend, Boyd, Merrin, Morgan.

Scotland: Coote, Tierney, Aitken, Linnett, Russell; Brough, Brierley; Walker, Hood, Douglas, Addy, Ferguson, Kavanagh.

Interchanges: Hellewell, Powe-Hobbs, Brooks, McConnachie.

Referee: B. Thaler Touch Judges: M. Craven & J. Smith Video Referee: B. Sutton

Attendance: 5337.

Four Nations 2016: Australia vs Scotland – Preview

The opening game of the 2016 Four Nations sees international superpowers Australia face debutants Scotland at Hull KR’s KC Lightstream Stadium.

Scotland qualified for the tournament following their triumph in the 2014 European Cup and are now the fifth different country to earn a place as the 4th nation and they will be hoping to put in a better performance than Wales, France, Samoa and Papua New Guinea before them.

Australia, as always, come into the competition as clear favourites despite failing to win the Four Nations in 2014. The ten-time World champions and two-time Four Nations winners will come over looking to add to their already decorated honours list.

Team News

Mal Meninga has chosen to rest some of his key players for their opening fixture. Darius Boyd, who featured in the warm-up game against New Zealand, will be replaced by a debuting Matt Moylan. Justin O’Neill, James Maloney, Jake Trbojevic and Jake Friend are all also likely to put on the Australian jersey for the first time.

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Maloney is set to debut

 

O’Neill will play in place of Greg Inglis while James Maloney will replace Jonathan Thurston in the halves. Matt Scott will be rested and Tyson Frizell and Jake Trbojevic will start for the Kangaroos.

As for Scotland, North Queensland’s Lachlan Coote is in line to make his debut at full-back which means Matty Russell will move to one wing with Wigan’s Lewis Tierney on the other. Danny Addy is likely to drop from the side to be replaced by captain Danny Brough who will partner Ryan Brierley in the halves.

Preview

Both sides come into the competition on the back of wins in their warm-up games with Australia beating New Zealand 26-6 and Scotland overcoming a Cumbria select side 16-48. But, the outcome of the game seems a foregone conclusion – a comfortable victory for Australia however with some of their key players being rested it could take them some time to get going. Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith will be pivotal for the Kangaroos as they will guide the side around the field and keep their forwards organised.

In the final third the flair and creativity will be provided by the two debutants – James Maloney and Matt Moylan. Maloney will take on the Scotland line and if the performs to the standards he has with the Cronulla Sharks this season it could be a long night for Steve McCormacks men. Moylan will support Maloney in the attacking line and with dangerous centres and wingers either side of him it isn’t hard to see where Australia’s points will come from.

However, Scotland’s back line isn’t too shabby itself. Coote’s NRL experience could be

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Scotland’s NRL star – Lachlan Coote

vital for the Scots as he competes against the Australian superstars every week. Huddersfield half-back duo Brough and Brierley will need to be at their best to cause Australia’s resilient defence problems but if they do manage to create openings then Warrington’s Matty Russell and Wigan’s Lewis Tierney will finish them.

 

But in the forward battle Scotland will struggle while the likes of Adam Walker, Frankie Mariano, Dale Ferguson and Ben Kavanagh are solid players in the Championship and Super League they will struggle to match the sheer power and speed of Mal Meninga’s pack. Aaron Woods has been a breakout star for Wests over the past two seasons and he will be looking to make a name for himself of the international stage along with Frizell and Trbojevic. Sam Thaiday, as always, will be hard to keep quiet.

Likely Line-Ups

Australia: Moylan, Mansour, O’Neill, Dugan, Ferguson; Maloney, Cronk; Woods, Smith, Klemmer, Thaiday, Frizell, Trbojevic.

Interchanges: Friend, Boyd, Morgan, Cordner.

Scotland: Coote, Russell, Hellewell, Linnett, Tierney; Brough, Brierley; Walker, Hood, Douglas, Phillips, Ferguson, Kavanagh.

Interchanges: Moran, Brooks, Mariano, Maneely.

Referee: Ben Thaler

Thoughts

While this Scotland side is definitely the strongest they’ve ever fielded it would take a brave man to even think that it could compete with the elite of Australia. The Bravehearts will come out fired up and may put in a solid display for the first 15-20 minutes but they will soon set in as they succumb to the power and skill of the Australian side. Once Maloney and Cronk settle in together at scrum half and stand-off the Kangaroos will cross for their first try and it could end up being a rather heavy defeat for Scotland after that but McCormack’s side will get on the scoreboard.

Prediction: Australia 58-6 Scotland

Four Nations 2016: The Preview

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.

Australia

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 newzealandvaustraliarugbyleagueworldu_7yre4y3jaldominance 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

Prediction: Winners

England

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 englandvfijirugbyleagueworldcupgrouphz5hdduaiuglBurgess, 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

Prediction: Runners-up

New Zealand

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.shaunjohnsonnewzealandvcookislandsxuczgnofd0ol

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

Prediction: 3rd

Scotland

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.47869-jpg

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

Prediction: 4th

Fixtures

  • 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.

Prediction

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.

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