International rugby league takes centre stage over the coming weeks with the Australians looking for redemption in the 2016 Four Nations Tournament in England.
With Tim Sheens at the helm, the Kangaroos were upset by New Zealand in the 2014 Final in Wellington, a result that ultimately contributed towards Australia losing the number one ranking as they lost three consecutive Tests to their Trans-Tasman rivals for the first time since 1953.
Cowboys ace Johnathan Thurston (pictured at top), who missed the 2014 event courtesy of a serious shoulder injury, has spoken this week of the hurt experienced by his teammates in the aftermath of that result and you suspect it will be the catalyst for a strong showing in the Old Dart.
Despite the enforced absence of NRL Grand Final hero Andrew Fifita, new coach Mal Meninga has named a 24-man squad littered with class, usual suspects Thurston, Cooper Cronk and skipper Cameron Smith enjoying an instinctive combination courtesy of years of practice at Origin level.
Fresh off a breakout season for Cronulla, flying finisher Valentine Holmes (pictured above) will look to nail down a spot on the wing having impressed in the recent test in Perth.
Fullback Darius Boyd protects the remarkable record of never having tasted defeat in 19 appearances for his country.
Throw in the strike power of Greg Inglis and a powerful forward pack featuring the likes of Boyd Cordner and Matt Gillett and the Kangaroos have every reason to be confident of success.
The Roos open up with a fairly soft fixture against Scotland, who earned their place in the event by winning the 2014 European Cup and will be making their first appearance at this level.
Scotland will be led by feisty halfback Danny Brough (pictured above), who has plenty of top level experience from his years in the UK Super League with both Wakefield and Huddersfield.
The Bravehearts will also be boosted by the addition of NRL players Lachlan Coote and Kane Linnett but aren’t expected to trouble the Aussies, who have already flagged the possibility of giving starts to a number of fringe players.
Hosts England pulled off a coup by securing the coaching services of Wayne Bennett and warmed up for the event with a comprehensive win over France in Avignon last weekend.
After the suggestion Bennett would top up his squad with some dubious eligibility inclusions drew fierce criticism in the north of England, the Brisbane mentor instead settled for a solid mix of well-performed Super League talent and some NRL stars.
With Sam Burgess (pictured above) set to make his re-entry to international rugby league following an ill-fated stint in rugby, one of the more interesting sub-plots to the series will be his ‘working’ relationship with Bulldogs skipper James Graham after that pair clashed heatedly in a fiery late-season NRL encounter.
Sam and his brothers, George and Tom along with Graham will provide the grunt in a forward pack also containing Raiders’ pair Elliott Whitehead and Josh Hodgson, while Gareth Widdop will also have a point to prove after a disappointing season for the Dragons.
The challenge for Bennett though, will surely be to get the most out of the local contingent in the brief time he has to work with them.
The likes of Kevin Brown and Stefan Ratchford are likely to reap considerable benefit from working with such a strong technical coach after failing to really establish themselves as elite playmakers and game-managers at international level.
Having blown off the cobwebs in the south of France, the Lions will surely fancy their chances of knocking off New Zealand in their opening match in Huddersfield, a fixture that arguably sets up the rest of the tournament.
With the gap between Australia and New Zealand virtually extinguished and the Kiwis no longer really able to voice their ‘underdog status’, it will be fascinating to see how they cope with the weight of defending their crown in David Kidwell’s first tournament in charge since taking over from the excellent Stephen Kearney.
Look for New Zealand to take the Poms on up the middle with their formidable forward pack, book-ended by captain Jesse Bromwich and the returning Jared Wearea-Hargreaves, who will be jumping out of his skin to make an impact having been on the outer during Kearney’s tenure.
However, as with their initial opponents, the Kiwis have doubts surrounding their halves with Shaun Johnson unable to live up to the kind of form that carried him to the 2014 Golden Boot after a disappointing campaign with the Warriors.
Thomas Leuluai is serviceable at best and perhaps owes his inclusion to the unfortunate set of circumstances surrounding Kieran Foran so look for Kidwell to call upon Penrith young gun Te Maire Martin at some stage to provide some spark.
Four Nations Winner
Unibet Odds: Australia 1.60, New Zealand 3.75, England 5.00, Scotland 201.00
Teams to contest the Final
Unibet Odds: Australia & New Zealand 1.75, Australia & England 2.30, New Zealand & England 7.50, Australia & Scotland 81.00
Tip: Australia & England 2.30
Read More From Stewart Croker