Four Nations 2016: England and Scotland ready for Australia and New Zealand
|Four Nations 2016|
|Venues: London, Liverpool, Coventry, Huddersfield, Hull, Workington Dates: 28 October-20 November|
|Coverage: All England matches plus other key games live on BBC TV, plus highlights of all other matches; all games live on BBC Radio 5 live or BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, and online|
The world's best rugby league players will be locking horns in England this autumn in the Four Nations, which culminates in a showpiece final at Liverpool's Anfield ground.
There are plenty of new players and coaches involved as the leading nations fine tune their squads before next year's World Cup - as well as a team making their Four Nations debut.
With many of the key games shown live on BBC television, there is a huge amount to look forward to over the next three weeks.
Who's in it? What's different for 2016?
The Four Nations is a round-robin tournament leading to a final which is held every two years, swapping between northern and southern hemispheres.
Until 2009 it was just the three best Test nations in the world - New Zealand, Australia and England - when a fourth spot was opened up to give lower-ranked nations from the "hosting hemisphere" a chance to test themselves against the elite.
Steve McCormack's Scotland booked their first Four Nations appearance when they won the second-tier nations' European Cup in 2014, overcoming France, Ireland and Wales.
While there is currently no professional rugby league team north of the border, McCormack has drawn on Super League and National Rugby League talent in putting together his squad.
Scotland's stars include North Queensland's 2015 Grand Final winning full-back Lachlan Coote, Huddersfield half-back Danny Brough and Lewis Tierney from Wigan, a full-back or winger like his famous dual-code England international father Jason Robinson.
Australia's Kangaroos are back in action after a rest year in 2015 in legendary player Mal Meninga's first competitive encounter since his appointment as coach last December, while New Zealand are still smarting from last year's Test series defeat by England, who have home advantage on their side.
- Four Nations fixtures in full
- Watch: England romp to warm-up victory
- Underdogs Scotland aim for historic victory
- Full coverage times and information
Four to watch
What's different about England this year?
The tournament marks the start of a new era for England rugby league, with Aussie "supercoach" Wayne Bennett at the helm and inspirational forward Sam Burgess back in the fold.
Bennett's credentials are immaculate, winning domestic titles in Australia with Brisbane Broncos and St George Illawarra Dragons.
He has experience at international level too, having coached his native country and helped New Zealand to World Cup glory in 2008 as part of Stephen Kearney's coaching staff.
Burgess returns to league's international game having featured in the union World Cup with England in 2015, an experience that may have scarred lesser characters.
However, the Dewsbury-born back-rower has settled back into the NRL and, having been awarded the England captaincy, is one of six Australia-based players in the squad.
All change for the tourists?
New Zealand, like Australia and England, also have a new head coach in David Kidwell, who replaced Kearney following his decision to take over at NRL side New Zealand Warriors in September.
Kidwell inherits a side that, despite last year's 2-1 series loss against England, remains number one in the world and are the defending champions from the 2014 competition.
He does have two talismanic figures back that missed out last year in hot-stepping half-back Shaun Johnson - the scourge of England in the 2013 World Cup semi-final - and powerful back-rower Jason Taumalolo, fresh from sharing the award for the "best and fairest" in the NRL with Cooper Cronk.
Cronk is also involved as one of Australia's household names alongside captain Cameron Smith and half-back Johnathan Thurston in what is otherwise a fairly fresh-looking squad.
With stalwarts such as Billy Slater injured, Corey Parker and Paul Gallen having retired and Greg Bird now in Super League and thus exempt from selection, "Big Mal" has amassed a side that might have casual observers scrabbling for internet search engines for detail.
There is no let-up in quality, though, sadly for the other three.
Wales fans will recall Tyson Frizell from their 2011 Four Nations campaign, but he will wear Australia's green and gold in 2016, while Cronulla winger Valentine Holmes is having a dream year, not just as an NRL title-winner but as a try-scoring debutant in the Perth "warm-up" Test against the Kiwis.
Who are the favourites for the tournament?
Ex-New Zealand full-back Robbie Hunter-Paul: "It's very open. Australia played OK against New Zealand in the recent Test and were comfortable winners, they were organised. New Zealand have the strongest squad - I'm biased, their individuals have exceptional skills but didn't glue it together last year in the Tests, there was no synergy. If they get it right they'll continue as number one team in the world. The Kiwis have the firepower and if they click they'll be unstoppable.
"England are the spanner in the works. I was at a dinner where Wayne Bennett was speaking and he came across as supremely confident - not a hint of cockiness, but completely comfortable and his players are having fun and enjoying the camp. His gift is making individuals move mountains, he treats people as people and motivates people to new places.
"Scotland have Coote, some good edge players and Danny Brough in the halves. It's about consistency, and they won't have games like they did at the World Cup - their players took their game to a higher level as they don't have games to acclimatise and they haven't had the same intensity as the other teams."
Former Great Britain half-back Iestyn Harris: "England, under the guidance of arguably the best coach in recent history, Wayne Bennett, have a genuine reason to be optimistic that they can finally take the next step and defeat the Kangaroos. They have the best pack they have ever had, the balance of the team looks exciting and they have more than enough size and power to compete.
"New Zealand certainly have the size and dynamism to win any Test. They will look to intimidate the opposition and dominate England physically. If they do that, watch out for Shaun Johnson's lightning footwork. The only concern is at times they can overplay their off-load game and leave themselves too much defending to do. With their biggest strength being size, it can also be their biggest weakness if they do not control the football.
"Australia have it all. A coach with a huge reputation as one of the best to have played the game, and a team to match. This is probably the most athletic Australia team to have travelled for years. they make this athleticism count when they are defending and they have the best scramble defence in the business.
"Scotland have the unenviable job of stopping probably the biggest, fittest and most competitive three teams in a long time. The challenge for Steve McCormack is to get the balance of his team right. All eyes will be on catalyst Danny Brough, however, and he needs to be at his best to raise his team enough to challenge. I can't see Scotland winning a game but I certainly believe they will compete and make it difficult for the opposition.
"My prediction is an Australia v England final at Anfield."
Former Scotland hooker Andrew Henderson: "I want Scotland to do well, for obvious reasons, and at least be competitive against the other three nations. Otherwise, the other teams have a great shout.
"The Kiwis, still number one, lost to Australia in the Perth Test a few weeks ago but form goes out of the window in these games. Australia are the bookies' favourites, they've a wealth of talent and still strong.
"England can be excited as they have a great squad that has been selected on form - they're a genuine threat now and it's exciting. They've a great chance on home soil but Australia are favourites."
So, it is taking place in rugby league's heartland?
There is a real mix of venues, finishing with the final at Anfield on 20 November.
Liverpool's recently renovated stadium is no stranger to rugby league as it was the scene of the World Club Challenge between Wigan and Penrith back in 1991 and St Helens' Super League game against Castleford in 1997.
Games will be staged at ardent league hotbeds such as Hull, Huddersfield and Workington, regular fixtures in the scheduling of international matches.
Meanwhile, London Stadium, having hosted the second Kiwi Test last year, is handed another plum fixture with England against Australia looking to tap into the capital's expat community.
Growing territory is also covered in the shape of Coventry, where the Bears have completed their second season in the bottom tier of the domestic professional game.
The double-header featuring all four nations at the city's Ricoh Arena, where Wasps rugby union have recently made strides, is one way of selling the sport to the local community.
How do I follow the tournament?
All of England's matches plus the final will be broadcast live on BBC TV, Red Button, Connected TV and online, with Scotland's games against Australia and New Zealand shown live on Premier Sports.
And BBC Two treats viewers to a Super Saturday on 5 November with five hours of back- to-back action from the double-header in Coventry.
Commentary of every game will be on BBC Radio 5 live or BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, and available online.
In addition, there will be highlights of all games on BBC TV and the BBC Sport website, so you need not miss any of the action.
There will be live text commentaries on all England games featuring analysis plus in-game highlights (UK only) on the website, while there will be Facebook Live broadcasts from key matches as well as highlights and the best action on the BBC's social media channels.