Love Rugby League has decided to take a closer looks at the sides involved in the tournament.
The number three-ranked side in the world will compete at the Four Nations under a completely new management team, with Australian Wayne Bennett as the head coach replacing Steve McNamara.
Bennett, who was involved with the New Zealand team as an assistant when they lifted the 2008 World Cup, has opted against a complete overhaul of the team, including 15 players that beat the Kiwis 2-1 in an international series last year.
Some of the key men to watch out for include captain Sam Burgess, who only returned from Rugby Union less than a year ago.
Castleford’s Luke Gale, who is one of the four uncapped players, will provide the creativity and vision in the halves – He was ranked first, in terms of try assists last season, racking up over 20 more than Warrington’s Chris Sandow, who was behind him on 25.
Gale will be competing for a halfback spot along with Gareth Widdop, George Williams and Kevin Brown.
In the forwards, Chris Hill will help make good field position – he was the top metre taker last season (3983). At 6”3 and weighing in at just under 17 stone he will also provide steel in defence.
The fact that 2016 Man of Steel Danny Houghton, Saints’ James Roby and Matty Smith, who was part of the Wigan team which beat Warrington in the Grand Final, didn’t make the cut reflects the strength in depth.
Official squad: Sam Burgess (c, South Sydney Rabbitohs), John Bateman (Wigan Warriors), Kevin Brown (Widnes Vikings), George Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Thomas Burgess (all South Sydney Rabbitohs), Daryl Clark (Warrington Wolves), Mike Cooper (Warrington Wolves/St George-Illawarra Dragons), Liam Farrell (Wigan Warriors), Luke Gale (Castleford Tigers), James Graham (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Ryan Hall (Leeds Rhinos), Chris Hill (Warrington Wolves), Josh Hodgson (Canberra Raiders), Jonny Lomax (St Helens), Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield Giants), Mark Percival (St Helens), Stefan Ratchford (Warrington Wolves), Dan Sarginson (Wigan Warriors/Gold Coast Titans), Scott Taylor (Hull FC), Stevie Ward (Leeds Rhinos), Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos), Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders), Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra Dragons) and George Williams (Wigan Warriors).
The Bravehearts are making their first-ever appearance at the Four Nations after winning the 2014 European Cup.
In stark contrast to Bennett’s tenure, Steve McCormack has spent the past year 12 years at the helm for Scotland.
Wigan’s Lewis Tierney is just one of the individuals, among the 24-man squad which includes ten uncapped players, who could make a real impact.
Tierney might have only just turned 22 but is already a Grand Final winner – the invaluable experience he has gained from the past season will be pivotal during Scotland’s inaugural outing at the Four Nations.
The versatile Australian, who can play full-back, stand-off or hooker, recently won the NRL with North Queensland Cowboys and played a big part in their 38-4 thrashing of Leeds Rhinos during this year’s World Club Challenge.
Then there is Huddersfield’s Danny Brough, the man who makes Scotland tick. The halfback has a brilliant rugby brain, reflected by his kicking game – he was well inside the top ten, in terms of attacking kicks last season in Super League (116).
The 33-year old also kicked 56 goals, including one against Hull KR to secure the Giants’ top-flight status.
This Four Nations might be about giving new talent a chance for Scotland but how they would have longed to be able to call on Peter Wallace, Leeds’ Keith Galloway and Joe Wardle – The forward was part of the Huddersfield side which won their first piece of silverware in the Super League era, securing the League Leader’s Shield in 2013.
Heavy underdogs, Scotland will be out to prove they can mix it with the big three.
Official squad: Danny Addy (Bradford Bulls), Euan Aitkin (St George Illawarra Dragons), Ryan Brierley (Huddersfield Giants), Sam Brooks (Widnes Vikings), Danny Brough (Huddersfield Giants), Tyler Cassel (Wests Tigers,), Lachlan Coote (North Queensland Cowboys), Luke Douglas (Gold Coast Titans), Dale Ferguson (Bradford Bulls), Ben Hellewell (London Broncos), Liam Hood (Leigh Centurions), Ben Kavanagh (Bradford Bulls), Kane Linnett (North Queensland Cowboys), Ryan Maneely (Halifax), Frankie Mariano (Castleford Tigers), Billy McConnachie (Ipswich Jets), Kieran Moran (Hull KR), Brett Phillips (Workington Town), Callum Phillips (Workington Town), Sheldon Powe-Hobbs (Northern Pride), Matthew Russell (Warrington Wolves), Lewis Tierney (Wigan Warriors), Dave Scott (Batley Bulldogs) and Adam Walker (Hull KR).
The Kangaroos will be bidding to lift their third Four Nations title, becoming the most successful team and moving ahead of bitter Southern hemisphere rivals New Zealand.
Tasked with the job of toppling the Kiwis is Mal Meninga, appointed in December last year after Tim Sheens departed.
In Meninga’s 24-man squad are seven players who have yet to feature for their national team, including 21-year-old Valentine Homes.
Someone who the Kangaroos look up to is Jonathan Thurston. He has played a pivotal part in each of the finals which Australia have gone on to win, being named man of the match in both games.
His kicking ability is second to none – in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup he picked off New Zealand in the final, successfully nailing all seven attempts at goal on the way to a devastating 34-2 victory. Thurston is a Golden Boot winner and two-time NRL grand final victor.
The 27-year old will help to drive the Aussie attack – he was inside the NRL’s top ten for the most metres made last season (3891) – and is coming off an impressive season with Penrith.
The Kangaroos are stocked with depth and have talent across the park.
Official squad: Cameron Smith (c, Melbourne Storm), Darius Boyd (Brisbane Broncos), Shannon Boyd (Canberra Raiders), Boyd Cordner (Sydney Roosters), Cooper Cronk (Melbourne Storm), Josh Dugan (St George Illawarra Dragons), Blake Ferguson (Sydney Roosters), Jake Friend (Sydney Roosters), Tyson Frizell (St George Illawarra Dragons), Matt Gillett (Brisbane Broncos), Valentine Holmes (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), Greg Inglis (South Sydney Rabbitohs), David Klemmer (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), James Maloney (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), Josh Mansour (Penrith Panthers), Trent Merrin (Penrith Panthers), Michael Morgan (North Queensland Cowboys), Matt Moylan (Penrith Panthers), Justin O’Neill (North Queensland Cowboys), Matt Scott (North Queensland Cowboys), Sam Thaiday (Brisbane Broncos), Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland Cowboys), Jake Trbojevic (Sea Eagles) and Aaron Woods (Wests Tigers).
The Kiwis are looking to become the first team to retain their Four Nations crown, after a narrow 22-18 victory against Australia in Wellington just under two years ago.
David Kidwell, promoted to head coach last month after spending the past three years as Stephen Kearney’s assistant, saw his side comfortably beaten by the green and golds last week in preparation for the Four Nations.
Amongst Kidwell’s selections are five uncapped players, including Solomone Kata, who is a dynamic centre.
Another new recruit is fellow Warriors’ teammate David Fusitu’a, who can also play in the centre but is competent on the wing as well, providing several options for Kidwell.
These two may be untested on the international front for the Kiwis but their recent league form suggests they could be integral to keeping New Zealand at the top in the future.
One man who is certainly not untested is 2014 Golden Boot winner Shaun Johnson.
Although the Warriors’ halfback didn’t experience World Cup success, losing to the Kangaroos, he did put in a heroic performance against England in the semi-final, scoring and converting an 80th-minute try to save the Kiwis from being dumped out.
A year on, the 26-year-old was instrumental in helping New Zealand secure their second Four Nations title, scoring a try and assisting two others in the final against Australia, earning him the man of the match award. Unfortunately he will be without his halfback partner Kieran Foran in this tournament.
Kidwell is another coach with one eye on the future but he will disappointed that the likes of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, a 2013 World Cup finalist won’t be available as well as Brisbane Broncos’ pair Alex Glenn and Kodi Nikorima.
The Kiwis will also be without injured skipper Simon Mannering.
Official squad: Jesse Bromwich (c, Melbourne Storm), Gerard Beale (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), Adam Blair (Brisbane Broncos), Lewis Brown (Manly Sea Eagles), Greg Eastwood (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), James Fisher-Harris (Penrith Panthers), David Fusitu’a (New Zealand Warriors), Tohu Harris (Melbourne Storm), Shaun Johnson (New Zealand Warriors), Jordan Kahu (Brisbane Broncos), Solomone Kata (New Zealand Warriors), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Sydney Roosters), Thomas Leuluai (New Zealand Warriors), Issac Luke (New Zealand Warriors), Te Maire Martin (Penrith Panthers), Manu Ma’u (Parramatta Eels), Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra Dragons), Kevin Proctor (Melbourne Storm), Jordan Rapana (Canberra Raiders), Joseph Tapine (Canberra Raiders), Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland Cowboys), Martin Taupau (Manly Sea Eagles), Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Sydney Roosters) and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith Panthers).