With news breaking that superstar five-eighth Johnathan Thurston has withdrawn from the upcoming Four Nations Tournament, the door was well and truly thrown open for the New Zealanders and English in terms of possibly winning the tourney.
With Thurston joining the likes of Matt Scott, Paul Gallen, Billy Slater, James Tamou, Nate Myles, Brett and Josh Morris, Andrew Fifita, and Darius Boyd as unavailable, due to a wide variety of reasons, the Kangaroos will be without a majority of their World Cup winning squad.
Although the Kangaroos are likely to call on replacement with the quality of Daly Cherry Evans, Greg Inglis and the like, the fact remains they will be severely under strengthened as a whole.
Personally I see it as a good chance to blood younger players such as Dylan Walker and Josh Jackson, but in terms of winning the tournament, you’d rather have the likes of Gallen, Myles, Scott and co. there to again do the job.
The reason I say the door is wide open for the other two major nations is not purely down to injuries within the Aussie squad, but also with the fact both have players in form, especially in the forwards where the Roos are weakened.
England have George and Tom Burgess, as well as the best prop in the world right now in James Graham. The New Zealanders have Jesse Bromwich and Sam Moa fit and firing, and Simon Mannering is coming off one of his best years to date.
With all due respect to Samoa, who have named a squad including the likes of Frank Pritchard and Tim Lafai, this is going to be a tournament made up of three established nations and an emerging nation.
The gap between the Kangaroos and New Zealand/England looked as though it had been closing in recent years, until the Roos absolutely hammered their neighbours 34-2 in last year’s World Cup Final.
The fact the Aussies held a red hot Kiwi side scoreless, whilst themselves pouring on five tries, sent a message that there was much work to do for the two sides most likely to test the new World Champions.
Whether either NZ or England will be able to walk through the proverbial open door is to be seen as despite being under strength, the Kangaroos are high unlikely to be pushovers, and will probably still enter the tourney as favourites regardless.
For the sake of international league, the gap between Australia and the following pack needs to close, and soon.
The fact the best from England seem to be chancing their arm at the NRL whilst in their primes will only help quicken this process.
As good as Graham, the Burgess clan and co. have been, the English side need more players taking part in the NRL to genuinely threaten.
The New Zealanders will again likely pose the biggest threat. Their squad is chock full of talent and they will enjoy home ground advantage in the final, should they qualify.
It’s through green and gold glasses that I believe the Kangaroos will still win the tournament despite the injuries, however it’s far from the foregone conclusion it may have otherwise been.