Roundtable: What went wrong for England?
With England and Scotland bowing out of the 2016 Four Nations tournament ahead of this week's final, NRL.com's writers discuss the talking points from both nations' campaigns.
Dominic Brock (NRL.com Production Editor): Many expected England to reach the final on home soil, but they fell short thanks to a one-point loss to New Zealand and a heavy defeat against Australia. How do you rate their campaign?
Andy Bryan (Deputy Editor): After making the last two Four Nations finals on home soil, you have to say it was a little disappointing.
Tony Webeck (Chief Queensland Correspondent): In many ways they are like New Zealand; big, willing pack of forwards but unfortunately don't have the brilliance the Kiwis possess to rescue them in close contests.
AB: On one hand they were unlucky to lose to New Zealand, on the other they struggled against Scotland for 40 minutes and looked out of sorts. They were decent against Australia, but struggled to make a meaningful blow.
Chris Kennedy (National Correspondent): Like many, I tipped England to make the final but it was always going to be close between them and New Zealand. The fact the Kiwis just edged them out isn't a big surprise but it will still be hugely disappointing for the England team.
TW: I can't get over how far Gareth Widdop has fallen in recent years. He was virtually non-existent in the first half against the Kangaroos.
If Josh Hodgson didn't play against Australia I seriously don't know how they would have scored any points. He should be at the heart of everything they do at RLWC 2017.
CK: Think you're being a bit harsh on Widdop. He had a poor year at the Dragons but I thought England have looked much better with him in the team than not in the team.
AB: They have the nucleus of a decent team, they just need to play more games together. They'll be much better at the World Cup with a chance to build into the tournament.
Adrian McMurray (Producer): They were certainly in with a shout, particularly against the Kiwis, but it was poor execution – mainly from their men out wide – that ended up costing them in crucial moments. I agree Tony, Hodgson is the key. I wonder how things might've been different with a more experienced fullback as well.
AB: Has been the story for England going back to 2009. Have been competing well in big matches, but lack composure and experience in the key moments and going down the stretch. You think Bennett will manage to get that belief into them before World Cup big games.
TW: I thought Lomax was pretty good against the Aussies, Kevin Brown had some nice touches, Widdop was the guy they needed to stand up, like Danny Brough did for the Scots against NZ.
CK: Don't get me wrong, they need more from Widdop but the other halves like Gale haven't given him a lot of help. Hodgson has been their most dangerous player though, clearly. He's great.
DB: Let's turn to the tournament underdogs, who pulled off one of the year's biggest surprises by claiming a draw with New Zealand. Did Scotland surpass expectations for you?
AM: Yes! Their first half against the Kangaroos was a bit disappointing, but they rallied to start well against England and the draw with New Zealand was the best thing to happen for international rugby league in a while.
TW: They played with tremendous heart, which for a team that had never played together before was a wonderful achievement by coach Steve McCormack.
AB: The footage of them celebrating the draw in the sheds is incredible. Just shows how much it means to them.
CK: Hugely impressive. We all tipped Danny Brough as the dangerman for Scotland before the tournament started and he delivered. He, like the team, improved as the tournament went on. His heart and competitiveness in that last game was something to behold.
TW: Lachlan Coote was exactly the foil Danny Brough needed and prop Adam Walker really caught the eye. Couple of willing back-rowers in Hellewell and Ferguson as well.
In saying that, two of their RLWC games are in Cairns, which will throw up slightly different conditions to Workington. Rematch with Kiwis in Christchurch should be a beauty.
AB: Yeah, Brough had some uncharacteristic mistakes during the tournament, but he certainly made up for them against NZ. Ultimate competitor and the conversion at the death in those conditions under that pressure is as good as you are likely to see. Willed his team home and never gave up.
DB: Looking ahead to next year's World Cup, can England – or any northern hemisphere side – improve enough to challenge for the Cup? Or are we expecting another Australia-New Zealand show?
TW: As impressive as Scotland were, England are the only ones that can seriously challenge for the crown.
CK: It's pretty hard to see anyone other than Aus or NZ winning it, especially given it's staged in their backyard. England probably have a little bit too much to do to be serious WC contenders in 12 months with a final at Suncorp.
AB: Look, Australia and New Zealand will be unbackable favourites to make the final, but it would be an incredible thing for rugby league if one of those teams don't make it.
That said, the standard across the board is getting much better. Samoa have shown they can compete at this level, just need more matches. England need to improve a fair bit - but have shown they can trouble New Zealand in particular. Fiji may even have one Jarryd Hayne in their line-up... so it should be a fun tournament.
TW: I'll be very interested to see the type of team Italy can put together for a tournament in Australia. I'd imagine there are plenty of NRL players who will be able to put their hand up for selection.
AB: Terry Campese will get a swansong in Canberra too!
AM: What a time.
AB: The obvious thing is to say Australia and NZ. But then again, no-one saw the Scotland result coming.
DB: If anything that game should ensure New Zealand stay switched on against the weaker teams in future.
AB: Fair point.
AM: I'm interested to see how this England side develop over the next 12 months. Hopefully they can play more regularly in the lead up to the RLWC. If any side are going to join Australia, New Zealand and England as the fourth powerhouse nation, it looks as though it's Samoa.
DB: ...Who are playing England in May I believe.
AB: Not Fiji? Made the last two semi-finals of World Cups...
DB: Fiji with Hayne could spring the odd surprise.
CK: Didn't Fiji just beat Samoa in Samoa?
AB: Indeed they did – they have been pretty strong in recent tournaments too. Plenty of forwards and strong outside backs.
TW: And depth will be assisted if they can start getting their NSW Cup team organised and training together during the year.
AM: All fair points, but the new eligibility rules could really open things up for Toa Samoa (a certain Broncos five-eighth could certainly help their cause), but I suppose the same could be said for Fiji too.
AB: Yes – I'd love to see that certain someone play for Samoa.
DB: Any more talking points on England and/or Scotland before we wrap this up?
AB: Just that when you hear Euan Aitken's story about why it means so much to play for Scotland, it makes you stop and think. The eligibility rules often cop a bit of criticism. But to hear his story about his Grandad and his family. Well, I think he has every right to play for them.
DB: The more NRL stars in international teams the better I reckon.
AB: It's a fine balance. You need the players who qualified for the World Cup to be recognised as well for the game to truly grow internationally.
TW: When either Australia or New Zealand get knocked out in the semi-finals; that's when the game will take off internationally.
CK: Spot on with the eligibility rules. If Origin isn't pulling players away from tier two nations we could see some other countries – Pacific Island nations like Samoa, Fiji and Tonga in particular – become serious threats with a chance to make a WC final.
DB: OK we'll finish up there. Cheers guys.