International Rugby League has come to an end for yet another year, with Australia regaining their top ranked spot after a dominant display over New Zealand at Anfield. However, just how successful was the 2016 Four Nations campaign?
THE HOME NATION
England had so much promise prior to the tournament. It was a fresh start for the hosting nation as they had a new head coach, new background coaches and arguably one of the strongest squads in recent times. However, the home nation fell short against New Zealand, started slowly against Scotland and were far from impressive against the Kangaroos.
Fans described it as the ‘same old story,’ seeing England fail to impress time and time again.
England’s campaign alone has been described as a disaster by some. But, you can’t entirely blame the squad.
Apart from the international friendly vs France prior to the Four Nations, England hadn’t played as a team since their three-match test series against New Zealand in 2015.
Bringing it back to this Four Nations, England had just 20 days after the Grand Final to prepare for the best teams in international Rugby League. Just 20 days for Wayne Bennett to get to know his players, learn their roles and then put them to the test against the likes of Australia, who have had the same backbone in their squad for countless of years.
It wasn’t an impossible task, but England still failed to impress on their home soil.
Almost-everyone on social media has agreed that the organisation of the tournament by the RFL and RLIF was poor.
Hull KR’s KC Lightstream Stadium hosted Scotland vs New Zealand, the opening game of the tournament, and already there were flaws in this plot.
England, as the hosting nation, should have opened this year’s tournament and started the campaign with a bang. Instead, a low crowd in Hull on a cold Friday night to see number one ranked team face a new-looking Scotland was how it began.
However, there was a success in England’s opening game, as Huddersfield’s John Smiths Stadium was a sell-out on a Saturday afternoon, televised on the BBC.
The double header at Coventry was an exciting prospect going into the tournament. A new ground, a new area and a chance to expand the sport. But, another chance wasted by the governing bodies as the fixtures were on a freezing Saturday night, which happened to also be Bonfire Night.
If the games had been played with kick offs 2:00pm and 5:00pm, families would have had time to celebrate Bonfire Night and the event would have appealed to more – and fans may not have looked so frozen in the stands. This could have seen an increase of attendance at the Ricoh Arena (pictured right).
Over 6,000 people saw Scotland make history against New Zealand at Derwent Park, but what’s to say that this fixture wouldn’t have sold out in a different location, at a different time? Langree Park, Leigh Sports Village or Halliwell Jones would have easily sold 10,000 tickets for this fixture, as they proved in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. The sport must aim big to be big.
Again, London’s Olympic Park showed last year it has potential for Rugby League, with over 40,000 fans enjoying England host New Zealand in the Autumn International Series. However, this year’s fixture between England and Australia fell on a Sunday afternoon, Remembrance Day. This saw a decrease from 44,000 to just over 35,000 this year. Another poor decision from the Governing Bodies.
Liverpool FC’s Anfield Park had its first taste of an international Rugby League final in its history, which saw a crowd of over 40,000 watch Australia regain their number #1 rank back. Besides the game, the new ground and the crowd was a success and it showed that Rugby League should and must return to Liverpool in the near-future.
As previously mentioned, the Grand Final and the first fixture of the Four Nations tournament fell just 20-days apart. That left the likes of Matty Russell (Warrington/Scotland) and Lewis Tierney (Wigan/Scotland), and the England players who played the following day, little time to rest, train and prepare for the games.
This year’s tournament was arguably one of the mot predictable campaigns we’ve ever had. Before it had begun, we already knew New Zealand would struggle and that Australia came in as big favourites. But aside from predictability, some of the games were lacking quality and competitiveness at times.
Not only was this a problem in the Four Nations, but the Super League has seen a major fall in quality of matches due to over-working players and the little rest they get within seasons.
Unfortunately, this was clear to see in both Super League and the Four Nations this year, especially England, who looked tired at times; but who can blame them after the demanding season that ended just 20 days beforehand?
For quality of matches and competiveness to increase, players need more rests in-between games, perhaps scrapping Thursday night games or the Easter period for player’s welfare and the quality of the game.