Three of the planet’s finest Rugby League sides – and Scotland – will contest the Ladbrokes Rugby League Four Nations tournament on UK soil this year. After seven years of hurt in this event to date there's a feeling (whisper it) that this England team may just have what it takes to challenge for honours.
The biennial tournament features the three best outfits in the world – England, Australia and New Zealand, plus a fourth side that has to go through a rigorous qualification campaign to book their place at Rugby League’s top table. This time around that will be Scotland, who will have their work cut out as no fourth nation has ever won a match at this tournament.
The most decorated teams in Rugby League Four Nations history are the Aussies and the Kiwis with two wins apiece. While England have appeared in a pair of finals, they are yet to get their hands on the trophy. This could well be Sam Burgess’ year and they appear to be this tournament's best bet.
The move came under a certain amount of criticism, but appointing one of the world’s finest coaches in Wayne Bennett could well prove to be a masterstroke from the England RL decision-makers.
The Aussie remains the most successful coach in Australian Rugby League history after decades of dominance with the Brisbane Broncos and the St George Illawarra Dragons, among others. The feeling is that he is the man to finally assemble this outstanding England squad into a winning machine on the grandest stages. It would be timely if he did, as the last time the Lions won a major tournament was the World Cup in 1972.
A strong squad, led with pride by Sam Burgess and with a canny coach on board, suggests that England finally have all of the pieces of the jigsaw in place to challenge the stranglehold of the two Pacific sides. In 2014 they could and perhaps should have made the final, losing by four and two points to the Aussies and Kiwis respectively. This set of players looks a step up in class from that vintage.
James Graham remains one of the finest players to pull on the white shirt, while the likes of Elliot Whitehead, Liam Farrell and Josh Hodgson look primed for success after excellent domestic campaigns. Those young heads are valuable as they won’t suffer from the battlescars of defeat – particularly against Australia, who boast a 9-1 head-to-head lead over Burgess’ side in Four Nations encounters.
The scene is set, with venues such as the Olympic Stadium, Anfield and the Ricoh Arena ready to reverberate with tens of thousands of passionate home supporters; England will expect to reach their third final of this competition on familiar territory. For those with a penchant for Rugby League betting, the 6/5 available at bet365 on Bennett’s troops to beat New Zealand in Saturday’s curtain-raiser is simply too good to miss.
The devastating power of their packs and pace of their backs mean that neither of the Southern Hemisphere teams can be written off – particularly the bookies' favourite, Australia, who bested their neighbours 26-6 in a Four Nations warm up just a fortnight ago.
Their roster of talent remains as fearsome as ever, blending experience (Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk) with youthful exuberance (Jonathan Thurston, Blake Ferguson) to create a 13 that is perhaps, pound for pound, still the best in the business. But doubts about their best three-quarter line – an area that could be exposed by both England and New Zealand – offers hope.
The Kiwis have been written off in some quarters by those making rather hasty predictions, which is surprising given their status as two-time Four Nations champs. Their pack still gives other teams nightmares – particularly Jesse Bromwich, while Jason Taumalolo comes to English shores on the back of a Daily M Player of the Year season.
But they seem to struggle when playing outside of the Southern Hemisphere; they have failed to make the final of the last pair of Four Nations renewals held in England and just two of their last nine tests there.
There is no reason to suggest that trend won’t continue and the generous price of 9/2 offered by 10Bet on Burgess to lift the trophy at Anfield is an example of rugby betting at its finest. Those odds could look even more handsome come the final on 20 November. For all the latest odds, visit bet365 today!