Four Nations: Five talking points

Phil Wilkinson picks out five talking points from the Four Nations double-header at Coventry.

Sunday, 6th November 2016, 1:03 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 4:21 pm
Liam Farrell celebrates his match-crowning try

1. Wayne Bennett said picking his team to face Australia next week was an “easier” task following their lacklustre display against Scotland.

James Graham should recover from a leg injury and return – whether it’s for Scott Taylor or one of the Burgess twins remains to be seen.

Wigan forward John Bateman has a case for returning, either to the second-row or the bench; Dan Sarginson less so, with his centre replacement Mark Percival showing a couple of nice touches against Scotland.

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But Bennett’s biggest headache is arguably at halfback. He has used two combinations so far – Luke Gale-Gareth Widdop and Luke Gale-George Williams.

Wigan stand-off Williams created three tries against the Scots and won the man of the match prize.

Will it be a third different combination, Williams-Widdop, against Australia?

2. How can England win by a 26-point margin, yet face criticism when Scotland are praised? Because they are judged to different scales.

Scotland had a classy backline but their pack had some part-time players who had taken time off work to take part in this series.

Yet they showed an admirable amount of enterprise and energy, particularly during a whirlwind start which saw them score two unanswered tries.

England have thrown money at their preparations, their backroom staff seems to have half the Man of Steel winners, and have a strong-looking squad split between NRL and Super League players. Bennett may be criticised for his abrupt replies in interviews - and deservedly so - but no-one can say he tried to sugar-coat their performance. His frank views were welcomed.

3. Australia and New Zealand have fought out some classic Tests.

This wasn’t one of them. The Kangaroos were more than good value for their 10-0 lead at half-time and winger Blake Ferguson was terrific (he only got his chance through an injury to a team-mate, that’s how much strength in depth they have).

The tight scoreline at least kept it mildly-interesting before Shaun Johnson, who kicked the decisive dropgoal in a 17-16 win against England a week ago, set up a thrilling finish.

First, he chipped the Australian defence and regathered at pace, leading to a try for winger Jordan Rapana which cut the margin to six points.

Then, with one second left on the game-clock, he went close to scoring a try... only to be held up over the line.

He may have his critics, but Johnson – who knocked England out of the World Cup three years ago – has a habit of striking late.

4. Staging the double-header in Coventry certainly polarised opinion. But when it came to it, the big problem wasn’t the venue, but the kick-off times.

The Ricoh Arena is a smart stadium, a one-tier bowl, and organisers did a good job with a fans’ village, creating a Magic Weekend-like feel.

So far, so good.

The logic of the double-header was sound - the games would not have pulled in big crowds as stand-alone fixtures.

But asking fans to sit outside for more than four hours on a shivery November evening was unfair.

If they kicked-off at 1pm and 3pm, it would have been great... and also encouraged more families from Yorkshire and the north west to go along.

Instead, the second game didn’t finish until near-10pm, by which point any remaining fans were freezing after more than four hours outside.

But as we know, TV is the ruler, and if a sport is going to get into bed with a broadcaster, we can’t be shocked if they steal the covers every so often. Under the circumstances, the 21,000 crowd was understandable.

5. England can still reach the final if they beat Australia at London Stadium next Sunday.

Win by 12 or more, and they will certainly be there courtesy of a better for-and-against than the Kangaroos.

A smaller margin may be sufficient, depending on the outcome of New Zealand’s game against Scotland on Friday in Workington.

But let’s not kid ourselves; England will need to be much, much better than they have been – and even then, hope the Aussies have an off-day - if they are to win.