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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
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

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment