League Freaks 2011 Four Nations Preview

Lets get right to a point that needs to be made. The Four Nations does not determine the best team in the world. We already have a competition for that, its called the World Cup. If Australia wins the Four Nations and wins every game by 50 points, the World Cup will still be sitting in Auckland.

Until the World Cup changes hands, I honestly don’t give a stuff about who the best team in the world is, simply because we settled that argument in 2008. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes.

The Kiwi’s are the best team in the world and the sooner the media gets their thick heads around that, the better.

Now, onto this years Four Nations competition…

For the first time we see Wales enter the Four Nations. Its a crying shame that they beat France really. I think France needs regular top class competition to keep taking steps forwards, and the potential for France to do well is a lot greater than the potential in Wales.

Australia and New Zealand both have their goals set already, and the odd team out really is England who honestly believe they are far better than they really are.

With all that in mind, lets have a look at the four teams competing in the Four Nations…..where did it get that name anyway?

Darren Lockyers last ever game will be played on this tour, so really, this is the end of an era for Australia in some sense.

I like the look of the majority of the Australian side, especially if Greg Inglis can be fit in time for the final, however, I worry about the forward pack a bit. It wouldn’t take too much in terms of injuries to expose the lack of depth in Australia’s forwards. That Scott and Gallen, the drop off is huge, and Gallen is a second rower anyway!

What happened a few weeks in Newcastle you can forget about. There will be no more games played in 30 degree’s on an afternoon on a firm surface. From now on its basically wet weather football, which is much more suited to the New Zealand side and their gigantic pack of forwards.

I think against Wales we will see Australia throw out a very interesting looking lineup, possibly with an eye on the post Lockyer future. Dale Cherry-Evans will hopefully get a full start in that game but you could also see Cronk at halfback and Thurston at five eight, which to me is the logical pairing to run out next year.

Australia knows it will make the final, so everything we see in the lead up to the final should be about preparing for the only game in this whole competition that really counts.

A couple of things to consider…

Tim Sheens is almost certain to coach Australia through the 2013 World Cup. This is Chris Lawrence’s big chance to cement a place in the side. He needs to have a big tournament. Anthony Watmought is another that needs to prove himself in the Four Nations, not just because of claims he is a problem off the field at rep level, but I think his style of game is very suited to Australian conditions. The World Cup is played in Britain, if Watmough doesn’t show his worth I think Australia will look for a bigger replacement to combat the Kiwi’s pack.

I still believe that the Australian side needs to have an eye on Jamal Idris in that regard. Yes, the end of his 2011 season was terrible, however he could be a huge asset for this Australian team over the next few years if he gets his head screwed on right.

What a fucking mess this has turned into…

By some sort of gift from God, England managed to be blessed with a young kid that grew up in England, who was then moved to Australia is his early teens, he ended up in Melbourne, and managed to come through the best junior development system in the world, break into NRL level on the back on his hard work, managed to become a starting lineup fixture with the superstars of the Melbourne Storm….and England doesn’t want to use him!

If Gareth Widdop was from New South Wales, he would be in line to play State Of Origin. Yet, England, who has a dwindling pool of talent, has turned its back on him completely. And who for?

Rangi Chase, a Kiwi that has been in England for many years less than Widdop has lived in Australia, and Kevin Sinfield, who had failed in the halves for England so many times that I can’t believe he was picked in this English side at all.

It is a crying shame and quite honestly, I think Widdop has done well not to get a twinge in his hamstring and level these fucking idiots to get smashed without him.

By the way, I expect this to be Sam Tomkins swansong from Rugby League. I think he will announce a move to Rugby Union in December.

I would have thought that McNamara would have a lot of his lineup set. Roby at hooker, Myler at halfback (No other option there), Widdop at standoff, Tomkins at fullback, Reed as one center, and because you drafted in Chris Heighington to play at lock, get Gareth Ellis playing out in the centers (Where he will play anyway) and try to shore up England’s terrible defense out wide.

That would have been the base I built the rest of the team around. You have all your key positions covered, you are looking towards who you want playing for England in the 2013 World Cup, you are going to answer a lot of questions with some players….it seems so obvious to me!

England will have the oldest front row in the competition by a long way. They have a mess in the halves. Their will be playing their best player (Widdop) off the bench to bring him into the side God knows where.

In short, England don’t stand a chance. They are cannon fodder for Australia and New Zealand as they line each other up for the final.

New Zealand
Despite a few players missing through injury, the New Zealand side is looking good.

The thing you always have to remember about New Zealand is that they always improve as these tournaments roll along. That probably comes down to the fact that Australian players are used to coming together on short notice and forming a representative side, because that is what happens during the State Of Origin series. The Kiwi’s don’t get that experience, so it takes them a little longer to really gel as a side.

I do worry about New Zealand out wide and while the addition of Steve Matai will short up one side of the field, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Keiron Foran playing in the centers at some point during the tournament to see how he goes.

I think Stephen Kearney’s a bit of playing Issac Luke off the bench needs to end. If he wants to keep him out of the hard work early I can understand, but he needs to come on after about 15 minutes. They look like a different team when he is on the field.

Looking towards the 2013 World Cup (Which SHOULD be what Australia and New Zealand have an eye on) I’m thinking we will see Shaun Johnson at halfback, Benji Marshall at five-eight, Foran in the centers and Luke at hooker. That gives the Kiwi’s and incredibly skillful, experience and yet young set of play makers to use. So it will be interesting is we see bits and pieces of that lineup running out during the Four Nations.

One big question mark over the Kiwi’s is if they will turn up focused. Every few years they will turn up in England and just not be in the contest at all. Stephen Kearney has already put a booze ban on his players and I think the big loss in Newcastle will have got them ready to have a big tournament.

There is no real reason to go too in depth about the Welsh lineup. Most of their side wasn’t actually born in Wales for starters, and they have a lot of players in the side that actually come from the lower grades in Australia. For some reason there has always been this need to push the game in Wales because of the supposed riches of “Rugby” talent the country produces. Really? Have you seen their Rugby Union side? Wales is not even good as a sport they obsess over, let alone Rugby League!

Wales will be so far off the pace it will be embarrassing. They don’t have anywhere near the player base to justify being part of the four nations. Their playing ability is, at best, at a semi professional level. If this was a team full of truly Welsh players, I’d have no problems with them being able to get exposure against the two best teams in the world, but that’s not the case. Its a side made up mostly of imports, and therefore is just a waste of everyone’s time.

If Australia and New Zealand decide to really turn it on against Wales, they will put 80 points on them.

One last thing I want to mention, Gareth Thomas. This is an old bloke who switched from Rugby Union to Rugby League as a publicity stunt a couple of years ago. He got an armchair ride at every stage by not only his Super League club, but the Welsh Rugby League.

On the verge of playing the REAL test for any Rugby Footballer, coming up against the Australian Kangaroo’s and New Zealand Kiwi’s, he decided to was going to up and retire!

What the fuck was he doing playing Rugby League if he wasn’t interested in testing himself against the worlds best?

I don’t qualify for Wales, but if the WRL rang me up today and said “We are short of players, do you want to play against Australia and New Zealand” I’d stop typing right now and would be on a plane over.

It makes you question his motivation.

Iestyn Harris is coaching the Welsh side and I’ve got to say, I like what I’ve seen of his man management as a coach. I think he could become a truly fantastic representative coach. He seems to be able to bring a side together, no matter what is going on around them, and get his players to play for him. That is half the battle!

Still, Wales won’t be in this contest. They might have a good 20 minutes against England, but that about all you can expect from them.

So Who Wins?
So the final will be contested between Australia and New Zealand.

At this point of the competition England will no doubt be blaiming arguments between St Helens and Leeds players and also officially who were so unbiased against them that they were biased towards everyone else for their failure.

Wales? Well, who honestly gives a crap. I don’t think Wales gives a crap, and why should they? Would I care about an Australian representative side made up of Welsh players? Nope!

On their day Australia can put 40 points on New Zealand. I don’t think New Zealand is yet capable of doing the same thing to Australia….but they are not far off.

I have said for months now that I expect to see New Zealand win the Four Nations, and I have yet to see anything to change my mind.

I actually think a New Zealand win would be a good thing for Australia’s 2013 World Cup campaign. I honestly believe that the powers that be in the Australian camp have yet to get to that place they need to be. “The Kiwi’s are clearly the best, we have a lot of work to do”. Australia just isn’t there yet.

I think New Zealand will win the Four Nations Final 28-24 over Australia.

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