In what is now the secondary competition to the Rugby League World Cup internationally, we see four teams of mixed strength arrive in Europe to contest the crown that anoints current world supremacy.
New Zealand will play in their first major tournament wearing the illustrious crown of World Champions. After their remarkable 34-20 win over Australia in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup, this Four Nations will be the time for the kiwi’s to prove that they were more than a one trick pony.
So far this has proven to be the case, with the much hyped rematch in this year’s ANZAC test between the two sides resulting in a 38-10 slaughter at the hands of the retribution seeking Kangaroos.
With a young squad and missing many key players, New Zealand will compete against England and France, but as always will be on the back foot against the number one ranked side in the world, and deserved tournament favourites Australia.
The Kangaroo’s march on Europe with their typical star studded roster, with a healthy spread of stars centred around six of the Premiership winning Melbourne Storm winning side.
Since losing the World Cup there is no doubt that the Australian’s have targeted this tournament as a statement maker.
The 14 point loss to New Zealand wasn’t so much an upset as a great tear in the fabric of the rugby league cosmos.
It broke the Kangaroo’s 33 year hold on the trophy, having won six consecutive events. It was only the fourth time that a team other than Australia had won the competition, their first World Cup match loss since 1995, and the first time since 1972 they had lost a final. It was also Australia’s first loss overall since losing to Great Britain in 2006, and their first loss to New Zealand in three years.
Ordinarily the word revenge isn’t uttered, but there is no doubt that Australia wish to remind New Zealand and the world of the balance of the power.
Still, while many believe that it be an Australia V New Zealand final, Kangaroo’s team manager has warned that despite such a talented squad and their favouritism; that the World Champions are still to be respected.
Especially considering New Zealand are better performers in major tournaments than one off tests, with the team not only winning the World Cup, but smashing Australia 24-0 in the 2005 Tri Nations tournament.
Allen believes that Australia might have suffered from poor build ups, beating Fiji 52-0 in the World Cup semi final and thumping France 44-12 before their 2005 final match with the kiwis.
New Zealand had tough matches against England and Great Britain before encountering Australia.
England though, the third ranked team in the world, will be keen to make a point now that they will remain their own entity, rather than being a British hybrid in the guise of “Great Britain”.
While they had an average World Cup in 2008, losing 52-4 to Australia and losing twice to New Zealand by at least 10 points, they will enter this tournament on some element of form, having beaten France in Paris 66-12 earlier this year and Wales 48-12 a few days ago in Bridgend.
They will look to make a statement, in accordance with how powerful they are in the Super League. Realistically the competition is not far off the quality of the NRL, and while typically not as fast paced as the Australian league games, it certainly is a lot more uncompromising.
Certainly when looking at the World Club Challenge, between the Super League Champions and the NRL Premiers, with the SL clubs leading the ledger 11-6, there is enough quality for the English to stand up and deliver.
While their players are spread out, current champions Leeds, runners up St Helens and Warrington provide 13 of their squad, and with all of their games at home, they should target the final if they want to show they can mix it with the Australians and New Zealanders.
France, the fifth ranked nation in the world (Fiji is fourth) is a bit of an unknown quantity.
While the country has a rich tradition in league, they are far from the famous sides of the 1950’s – who regularly beat Australia and New Zealand – and of the late seventies, where in 1978 France famously defeated the Kangaroo’s back to back.
They draw the bulk of their players from the Catalans Dragons, who finished eighth in this year’s Super League with 13 wins and 14 losses.
While it is unfair to suggest they are just making up the numbers, they will need to draw on their famous home support when playing the Southern twin powers in Toulouse and Paris.
For the sake of the tournament and the depth of world rugby league, let us cheer Les Chanteclairs and hope for a wonderful Four Nations.
Article with squads and fixtures can be found here