Four Nations can erase pain of World Cup

Expect more tries and better rugby as 13-man code emerges from union's shadow

One of the potential problems with rugby league's Four Nations, which opens with Australia playing New Zealand at Warrington tonight, is that it can hardly avoid comparisons with events on the other side of the world.

Set alongside rugby union's World Cup, the crowds will be smaller, the coverage minimal, the rugby and the off-field behaviour better. There will be more tries than goals. All that can be predicted with some confidence.

There is no denying that league's weakness is its lack of a convincing international dimension. The Four Nations, a concept which is itself a rather inadequate replacement for full tours to and by Great Britain, goes into cold storage after this tournament. It is scheduled to reappear in 2014, after a World Cup here the previous year.

By comparison with either that or rugby union's shindig, this is a condensed, intimate affair. Even four nations could be too many, however.

The concept began as Three Nations, with England, Australia and New Zealand playing each other twice, leading to a final. Provided nobody fell down on the job too badly, that was a guarantee of plenty of competitive rugby.

The worthy motive of encouraging France and Papua New Guinea – the next strata down – has diluted that promise. It seemed an exciting development when Wales beat the French to qualify for this year's tournament; now one rather fears for them.

With a couple of their brighter prospects opting to qualify for England, the talismanic Gareth Thomas retired and the guts kicked out of the professional structure in the Principality by the implosion of Crusaders, it will be a major achievement for Wales – now largely and creditably represented by Welsh-born players – to avoid three heavy defeats, starting with England at Leigh tomorrow.

The title will be decided by the games between the big three, culminating in the final at Elland Road on 19 November. Here, there is much to look forward to.

To see the Kangaroos and the Kiwis go head-to-head in a stadium as tight to the touchlines and as atmospheric as the Halliwell Jones is a treat no rugby league follower could resist. Likewise next weekend's double-header at Wembley: England (or rather Great Britain) have a good record against the Aussies in that stadium (or rather its predecessor) and the RFL is confident of topping the 50,000 mark for the two games. They are part of something of a blitz on London next week, with the rebranding of Harlequins RL (who revert to their old identity as London Broncos), the International Player of the Year awards and all four squads spending time promoting the game in the capital.

The key game could well be at Hull the following weekend, when England and New Zealand should be contesting a place in the final against Australia.

The Kiwis might look well below full power this time, but they have fooled us that way before. In Benji Marshall, they have a player who can take any game by the throat, whilst newcomers such as the full-back, Kevin Locke, and the scrum-half, Kieran Foran, look genuine prospects.

Australia, with that familiar spine of Queensland class and experience, also have some exciting new faces, headed by Akuila Uate, a winger who has the potential to become one of the very best.

Which leaves England, or the United Nations, as disgruntled purists might put it. Coach Steve McNamara's decision to use four players from the southern hemisphere has not pleased everyone, but that tough attitude of "whatever it takes" could be just the ticket.

Four Nations: Who's who

Australia

Coach Tim Sheens

Captain On his farewell tour, Darren Lockyer

One to watch Thrilling winger Akuila Uate

Bookies say 11-4 on

England

Coach Steve McNamara

Captain Pack leader par excellence, Jamie Peacock

One to watch Kiwi-born half-back Rangi Chase

Bookies say 7-1 shot

New Zealand

Coach Stephen Kearney

Captain Benji Marshall, developing into the tactical leader that the Kiwis need.

One to watch Kevin Locke

Bookies say 3-1

Wales

Coach Iestyn Harris

Captain Lee Briers

One to watch Widnes-bound Lloyd White

Bookies say At 100-1, the rank outsiders

Suggested Topics
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all