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 its 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 Kiwis 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 alway,s will be on the back foot against the No. 1 ranked side in the world and deserved tournament favourites, Australia.
The Kangaroos march on Europe with their typical star-studded roster and 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 Australians 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 Kangaroos' 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 wishes to remind New Zealand and the world of the balance of the power.
Still, while many believe that it will be an Australia-New Zealand final, Kangaroos' team manager has warned that despite such a talented squad and their favouritism, 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, 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 and 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 1950s—who regularly beat Australia and New Zealand—and of the late '70s, where in 1978 France famously defeated the Kangaroos 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.
2009 Rugby League Four Nations Fixtures
23 October: England V France @ Doncaster, England
24 October: New Zealand V Australia @ London, England
31 October: England V Australia @ Wigan, England
31 October: France V New Zealand @ Toulouse, France
7 November: England V New Zealand @ Huddersfield, England
7 November: France V Australia @ Paris, France
14 November @ Elland Road, Leeds, England
Four Nations Squads
Coach: Tim Sheens (Wests Tigers).
Brisbane Broncos: Darren Lockyer (c), Justin Hodges, and Sam Thaiday.
Canberra Raiders: David Shillington.
Canterbury Bulldogs: Ben Hannant and Josh Morris.
Cronulla Sharks: Paul Gallen.
Manly Sea Eagles: Anthony Watmough.
Melbourne Storm: Cooper Cronk, Ryan Hoffman, Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, and Brett White.
Newcastle Knights: Kurt Gidley.
North Queensland Cowboys: Johnathan Thurston.
Parramatta Eels: Jarryd Hayne and Nathan Hindmarsh.
Penrith Panthers: Petero Civoniceva, Michael Jennings, Luke Lewis, and Trent Waterhouse
St. George Illawarra Dragons: Brett Morris (replacement for Israel Folau).
Wests Tigers: Robbie Farah.
Coach: Stephen Kearney (Melbourne Storm).
Canberra Raiders: Bronson Harrison.
Canterbury Bulldogs: Greg Eastwood and Bryson Goodwin.
Manly Sea Eagles: Kieran Foran, Steve Matai, and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
Melbourne Storm: Adam Blair and Jeff Lima.
Newcastle Knights: Junior Sau.
New Zealand Warriors: Lance Hohaia, Kevin Locke, and Ben Matulino.
Parramatta Eels: Krisnan Inu and Fuifui Moimoi.
Penrith Panthers: Frank Pritchard.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Issac Luke.
St. George Illawarra Dragons: Nathan Fien and Jason Nightingale.
Sydney Roosters: Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Sam Perrett, and Iosia Soliola.
Wests Tigers: Benji Marshall (c).
Wigan Warriors: Thomas Leuluai.
Coach Tony Smith (Warrington Wolves).
Bradford Bulls: Sam Burgess and Paul Sykes.
Castleford Tigers: Michael Shenton.
Huddersfield Giants: Eorl Crabtree and Scott Moore.
Hull KR: Shaun Briscoe and Peter Fox.
Leeds Rhinos: Jamie Peacock (c), Ryan Hall, Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield, and Lee Smith.
Salford Reds: Richard Myler.
St Helens RLFC: Kyle Eastmond, James Graham, James Roby, and Jon Wilkin.
Warrington Wolves: Chris Bridge, Garreth Carvell, Adrian Morley, and Ben Westwood.
Wests Tigers: Gareth Ellis.
Wigan Warriors: Sean O'Loughlin and Sam Tomkins.
Coach: Bobbie Goulding.
AS Carcassonne: Romain Gagliazzo, Christophe Moly, and Teddy Saddaoui.
Catalans Dragons: Olivier Elima (c), Jean-Philippe Baile, Thomas Bosc, Remi Casty, Vincent Duport, Jamal Fakir, David Ferriol, Cyril Gossard, Gregory Mounis, Dimitri Pelo, Sebastien Raguin, Cyril Stacul, Julien Touxagas, and Clint Greenshields.
Lezignan Sangliers: Jared Taylor and James Wynne.
Toulouse Olympique: Eric Anselme, Mathieu Griffi, Sylvain Houles, Sebastien Planas, and Constant Villegas.
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