Build-up: The Kangaroos’ lead-in to the tournament was dominated by a succession of high-profile withdrawals. The world champs’ list of unavailable players – through injury or fatigue – was headlined by Johnathan Thurston, Brett Morris, Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Matt Scott, James Tamou, and Justin Hodges, while Jarryd Hayne pulled out the day after the squad was named to pursue an NFL career.
Australia named an extraordinary 11 debutants in their 24-man squad, including six in the outside-back department. Coach Tim Sheens’ team is light on front-rowers, with uncapped duo Aaron Woods and David Klemmer the only specialists – Jacob Lillyman and Aiden Tolman were desperately unlucky to be overlooked. Only six members of the Kangaroos’ squad were not involved in the NRL finals.
LINE-UP FOR WEEK 1: 1. Greg Inglis 2. Josh Mansour 3. Michael Jennings 4. Dylan Walker 5. Daniel Tupou 6. Daly Cherry-Evans 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Aaron Woods 9. Cameron Smith (c) 10. Sam Thaiday 11. Beau Scott 12. Ryan Hoffman 13. Greg Bird Interchange: 14. Robbie Farah 15. Aidan Guerra 16. Josh Papalii 17. Corey Parker 18. Boyd Cordner 19. David Klemmer 20. Sione Mata’utia.
Josh Mansour and Daniel Tupou received Test debut call-ups on the flanks ahead of rookie Alex Johnston, while Dylan Walker ousted fellow newcomer Sione Mata’utia for a centre spot. Daly Cherry-Evans moves into Thurston’s No.6 jumper alongside Cooper Cronk.
Woods was unsurprisingly named to debut at prop, where he will be partnered by Sam Thaiday; Klemmer was named on an extended bench, meaning Corey Parker and Josh Papalii can expect plenty of time in the trenches when they take the field. The all-NSW backrow is stacked with experience, while Aidan Guerra has been picked ahead of 18th man Boyd Cordner and Canterbury tyro Josh Jackson. Robbie Farah has regained the utility role occupied by Cherry-Evans at the World Cup, chosen ahead of Ben Hunt.
Rest of the squad: Ben Hunt, Alex Johnston, Matt Moylan, Josh Jackson
Most of Australia’s international rookie contingent can expect to get a run against Samoa in a fortnight’s time. Moylan was named as Hayne’s replacement in the squad.
Key men: The experienced triumvirate of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Greg Inglis will look to dictate terms for the Kangaroos and provide guidance for their novice teammates. Aaron Woods needs to step up to Test level immediately against some very good opposition packs, while Parker and Greg Bird will assume leadership roles in the engine-room.
Prospects: Despite the barely recognisable look to the Kangaroos’ first-week line-up and the wider squad, they remain the team to beat. Australia has not lost a Test since the 2010 Four Nations final. They are vulnerable, however, and the tournament-opener at Suncorp will be a good barometer. The final is being played in Wellington, but the green-and-golds have not been beaten on New Zealand soil since 2003.
Build-up: The Kiwis have also been disrupted by a host of withdrawals and players unavailable due to injury/fatigue, most notably likely first-choice stars Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sam Moa, Ben Matulino, Konrad Hurrell, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Sam McKendry.
Josh Hoffman and Frank-Paul Nu’uausala, who could not even get a gig after Moa pulled out, were the surprise omissions. Eleven of the Kiwis’ squad has not played since the NRL regular season, so match conditioning could be an issue at the start of the tournament.
LINE-UP FOR WEEK 1: 1. Peta Hiku, 2. Jason Nightingale, 3. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 4. Dean Whare, 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 6. Kieran Foran, 7. Shaun Johnson, 8. Jesse Bromwich, 9. Thomas Leuluai, 10. Adam Blair, 11. Simon Mannering (captain), 12. Kevin Proctor, 13. Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14. Lewis Brown, 15. Greg Eastwood, 16. Martin Taupau, 17. Tohu Harris, 18. Suaia Matagi.
The big shock in New Zealand’s side for the tournament-opener against Australia is the inclusion of teenage winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak ahead of veteran Manu Vatuvei. The rest of the backline offered few surprises, with Peta Hiku retaining the fullback spot ahead of Gerard Beale.
Thomas Leuluai steps into the No.9 breach created by Isaac Luke’s suspension; Lewis Brown makes a return to the national side for the first time since 2011 as the Kiwis’ bench utility.
The Kiwis’ eroded front-row stocks sees Adam Blair picked to start up front with Jesse Bromwich; Martin Taupau is on the bench, while Suaia Matagi could make a late bid to debut after being named as 18th man. Jason Taumololo, who Tim Sheens said would have been picked for Australia if eligible, will make his Test debut at lock.
Rest of the squad: Gerard Beale, Sosaia Feki, Siliva Havili, Isaac Luke, Bodene Thompson, Manu Vatuvei.
Luke will be back for New Zealand’s next game, while Vatuvei and newcomer Sosaia Feki will be itching for a chance on the wings. Bodene Thompson was the surprise replacement after Sam Moa withdrew.
Key men: Halves Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson are world-class, and Luke will add more spark when he returns. The Kiwis will be relying on the likes of Dean Whare, Jason Nightingale and Taumololo to provide scoring punch with a few key attacking performers missing.
Prospects: New Zealand is Australia’s biggest danger and their record in tournament finals – last year’s World Cup drubbing being a notable exception – holds them in good stead. But there are a few green players and untried combinations in the Kiwis’ side, and they have not won a non-final against Australia since 2005. Definitely capable if they click on any given day, but simply reaching the decider by downing England will be the Kiwis’ priority at this stage.
Build-up: With a host of NRL stars available and plenty of home-based talent at their disposal, England has every reason to be confident – despite Sam Burgess’ switch to rugby union. James Graham, Sam Tomkins, Gareth Widdop, and George and Tom Burgess are certain to provide the long-suffering Poms with confidence after standing out week after week against Australia’s and New Zealand’s finest.
Seven players from beaten Super League grand finalists Wigan were chosen to tour, but remarkably none of the victorious St Helens side was named. England has arrived with 13 survivors from last year’s gallant World Cup squad.
LINE-UP FOR WEEK 1: 1. Sam Tomkins, 2. Josh Charnley, 3. Kallum Watkins, 4. Michael Shenton, 5. Ryan Hall, 6. Gareth Widdop, 7. Matty Smith, 8. George Burgess, 9. Josh Hodgson, 10. James Graham (c), 11. Liam Farrell, 12. Joel Tomkins, 13. Joe Westerman. Interchange: 14. Darryl Clark, 15. Brett Ferres, 16. Tom Burgess, 17. Chris Hill.
Brilliant Canterbury prop Graham has been named captain for England’s opening game, with squad skipper Sean O’Loughlin nursing an injury. The Burgess twins have also been named, giving England almost certainly the strongest front-row rotation of any of the four teams. The likes of Kallum Watkins, Josh Charnley and Ryan Hall are proven performers on the international stage, while Wigan’s second-row duo Liam Farrell and Joel Tomkins provides extra punch in the pack.
Widdop teams up with Wigan No.7 Matty Smith in the halves, Tomkins is always a threat from fullback and Canberra Raiders recruit Josh Hodgson will make his Test debut at hooker.
Rest of the squad: Joe Burgess, Mike Cooper, Zak Hardaker, Sean O’Loughlin, Stefan Ratchford, Dan Sarginson, Elliott Whitehead.
O’Loughlin is slated to return from his quad complaint for the clash with Australia next week, after picking up the injury in Wigan’s grand final loss a fortnight ago.
Key men: In the form of Graham, Widdop and Tomkins, England boasts a top-class triumvirate of seasoned ball-players capable of ensuring the St George cross gives the Four Nations a real shake.
Prospects: With their opponents significantly weakened, England has a genuine chance of its first major international tournament victory since 1972. Although they have not beaten New Zealand and Australia overseas since 1992 and 2006 respectively, the Poms have enough quality and experience about them to have the other heavyweights worried – as they proved at last year’s World Cup.
Build-up: The competition minnows could not have had a more undesirable lead-in to their tournament-opening clash with England, after several players were involved in a nightclub brawl in Brisbane on Saturday night. Dangerous three-quarter Tautau Moga was arrested over the incident, which is being investigated by the NRL’s integrity unit.
The drama was a crushing blow for a Samoan side that would have fancied its chances of springing a boilover against England. Losing some of their best players to Kangaroos and Kiwis selection was a familiar setback, while Suaia Matagi was selected by both Samoa and New Zealand – eventually opting to represent the latter.
LINE-UP FOR WEEK 1: 1.Tim Simona 2. Antonio Winterstein 3. Ricky Leutele 4. Joey Leilua 5. Daniel Vidot 6. Ben Roberts 7. Kyle Stanley 8. Sam Tagaetese 9. Michael Sio 10. David Fa’alogo 11. Frank Pritchard 12. Leeson Ah Mau 13. Josh McGuire Interchange: 14. Pita Godinet 15. Jesse Sene-Lefao 16. Isaac Liu 17. Mose Masoe 18. Dunamis Lui.
There’s no shortage of strike-power out wide, with Tim Simona, Antonio Winterstein, Ricky Leutele, Joey Leilua and Daniel Vidot all fine finishers and strong providers. Up front the likes of Sam Tagatese, Frank Pritchard, Josh McGuire, David Fa’alogo and Jesse Sene-Lefao will ensure Samoa loses little in the battle of the middle third.
The key playmaking areas are a major concern, with the erratic Ben Roberts and injury-prone Kyle Stanley charged with steering Samoa around. Hooker Michael Sio has not played NRL footy yet, while Tim Simona is inexperienced as a top-line fullback. Pita Godinet should add some X-factor and ball-playing class. Moga, Reni Maitua and Sauaso Sue were not considered for selection following last weekend’s incident.
Tim Lafai is arguably Samoa’s best player and his exclusion from the England clash is presumably due to injury.
Rest of the squad: Penani Manumalealii, Peter Mata’utia, Reni Maitua, Tautau Moga, Dominique Peyroux, Sauaso Sue, Tim Lafai
Key men: The form of Roberts and Stanley will be pivotal, but Lafai, Simona, Leilua, Pritchard and McGuire provide Samoa with enough class and dynamism to make a dent in the tournament.
Prospects: Samoa will be hard-pressed coming up with a victory – particularly in light of last Saturday’s debacle – but they can build on their impressive performances from last year’s World Cup, and the island nation is sure to have plenty of crowd support in Brisbane, Whangarei and Wollongong.
FOUR NATIONS SCHEDULE
Saturday, October 25: Australia v New Zealand, England v Pacific Team at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.
Saturday, November 1: New Zealand v Pacific Team at Toll Stadium, Whangarei
Sunday, November 2: Australia v England at AAMI Park, Melbourne
Saturday, November 8: New Zealand v England at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.
Sunday, November 9: Australia v Pacific Team at WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Saturday, November 15: Four Nations Final at Westpac Stadium, Wellington