2014 Four Nations Preview
It’s that time of the year again – the NRL offseason, and as we all slowly come to terms with yet another NRL season drawn to a close, it seems as though life all of a sudden has no purpose. With an abundance of new found spare time, and no referees to bag or evidence of a conspiracy theory to blame for the collapse of your team’s season, the countdown for season 2015 has already begun.
Just when you thought it was all over, the upcoming Four Nations series, consisting of Samoa, England, New Zealand and Australia, is here to give you one last taste of rugby league for 2014, and it’s sure to leave you craving more.
Unpredictable – a word not usually associated with competitions that boast the attacking flare and defensive dominance of the Kangaroos, where you know what type of performance to expect. But with so many injuries and the effects of a tough NRL season taking its toll on some of Australia’s key personnel, this year’s Four Nations series is well and truly up for grabs.
As one of the teams competing in this year’s tournament, the skeptics have once again rallied, questioning Samoa’s ability to legitimately challenge for this year’s title, and no, Paul Kent is not one of them. Not this time anyway. Earlier in the year, a victory over fellow Pacific rivals, Fiji, gave everybody a taste of what to expect from the Samoan’s in the upcoming series.
With the undeniable skill and finishing ability of outside backs such as Tim Lafai, Tim Simona and Antonio Winterstein, and colossal, ball playing forwards like Frank Pritchard and Mose Masoe, it’s hard not to give Samoa a decent chance. Add to that the experience and reliability of players like Reni Maitua and David Fa’alogo and you’ve all of a sudden got the perfect mixture of size, skill and go-forward. Regardless of whether or not you believe Samoa have what it takes, you can be sure that there will be plenty of entertaining rugby league on display from some future and current NRL stars.
When it comes to England, it seems that the power and toughness possessed by Sam Burgess would be enough for him to single handedly take on the other three nations and do so quite easily. Unfortunately for England, big Sammy will not be taking the field, but all hope is not lost. Another two barnstorming Burgess brothers – George and Tom – will line up for England, who will look to improve on their impressive 2013 World Cup semi-final performance, which proved to everyone that they are still a force to be reckoned with.
English fans will be hoping that Sam Tomkins’ NRL experience will help their side, which has not won a major a tournament in Australasia since 1990. With the help of fellow regular NRL first-graders James Graham, Mike Cooper, Gareth Widdop and Burgess times two, the England side definitely has what it takes to win their first major title in 24 years.
Across the ditch, New Zealand will be looking to build on their performance in this year’s Anzac Test which saw them beaten 30-18 by the Kangaroos. In this match, the Kiwis fielded a host of debutants to complete a new look side, and the New Zealand selection board have once again followed trend, naming four rookies in their Four Nations squad.
Skillful Penrith winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Cowboys back rower Jason Taumalolo, Sharks winger Sosaia Feki and Warriors prop Suaia Matagi have all been included in the squad, with injury ruling out crowd favourite Konrad Hurrell, along with front rowers Ben Matulino and Sam Mckendry.
All in all, the Kiwis have named a well-rounded squad with some exciting new prospects. Despite the inclusion of a few new faces, you can be sure the Kiwis will put up a strong fight and undoubtedly play an up-tempo brand of footy that will see them score plenty of points. They begin their campaign against Australia in Brisbane on October 25.
The unrelenting effects of the 2014 NRL season has taken its toll on countless Aussie players, who have had to withdraw from the competition as a result of injury or ‘exhaustion’, or both. With key players like Jonathan Thurston, Justin Hodges, Billy Slater, Nate Myles, Matt Scott all set to miss this year’s competition, add to that the withdrawal of star Jarryd Hayne who is looking to try his hand in the NFL and the door has opened for a number of exciting new rookies.
Daly Cherry Evans is the likely candidate to partner Cooper Cronk in the halves, however Broncos halfback Ben Hunt could well cap off an outstanding season by pulling on a Kangaroos jersey, with his versatility and ability to play hooker proving to be a valuable asset for Coach Tim Sheens, if needed.
Also capping strong seasons, it is believed that try-scoring freak Alex Johnston, classy centre Dylan Walker and front rowers David Klemmer and Dylan Napa could possibly line up for the green and gold if called upon.
Either way, the Kangaroos still possess the personnel in key positions to get the job done this Four Nations series. In saying this, expect to see strong challenges from the other three nations and keep an eye out for the rookies in each side, as future superstars of the game, they will prove that in the international arena, age means nothing.