A Breakthrough Year in the Four Nations

Before this year’s Four Nations tournament has even come to a close, fans know that they have witnessed something special.

Building on the Tri-Nations competition, which this tournament replaced in 2009, New Zealand, Australia and England are automatically entered to compete, as the top three nations in the sport.  Making this competition different, however, is that a fourth nation qualifies to take part, depending on whether the tournament is being held in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere. 

So far, in the five years of contest, qualifying teams had only ever lost.  In the history of the competition, no fourth team had ever beaten one of the top three.  Indeed, these teams had never even notched up a single point, making critics wonder how this tournament was any better, for players and supporters, than the one it replaced.

“Scotland managed to defy all odds and hold their third opponents to a solid draw”

This changed on Friday evening, when Scotland drew with the current Four Nations title holders New Zealand, and overcame the curse of the qualifying team.  Despite losing their first two games quite spectacularly, going down 54-12 to Australia and then 38-12 to England, Scotland managed to defy all odds and hold their third opponents to a solid draw.  History was made as the final whistle blew. 

With those two previous results, and the opponents being New Zealand – icons of the sport, no one expected Scotland to achieve this, making the final score even more astounding.  Significantly, Scotland’s football team, playing at the same time, lost 3-0 to arguably one of the worst England sides in memory.

Unfortunately this is where their luck will come to an end, as their part in this tournament is over; they will only be able to look on at the final at Anfield next week. 

Despite this, Scotland’s national side will, and should be, praised for what they have achieved.  As a nation, the Scottish supporters should be hugely proud of their team but this pride should be felt by more than just Scotland.  All rugby league players and supporters, regardless of where they’re from, should celebrate this result.  This Scottish side has done something which the likes of France, Papua New Guinea, Wales and Samoa had tried, but failed to do in four successive tournaments.  They should be widely celebrated in these nations too.

It may not have been a win, but it is still a triumph in the sport, showing that the fourth nation has a place to defend in this competition.  This nation isn’t simply an add-on or an afterthought, or a means to generate more revenue.  It has a competitive place in the tournament.

“Scotland may have just earned their place, and the places of all qualifying teams in the next few years, in the competition”

In previous years, the fourth team hasn’t only lost all the games they’ve played but these losses have been notoriously bad.  Both Papua New Guinea in 2010 and Wales in 2011 failed to score, and points margins of 30, 40 and even 50 are not rare or unsurprising. 

Although Samoa came painfully close in 2014, as they lost two of their games by only a try each time, their results still go down as a loss.  But perhaps now views can begin to change on the qualifying nation.  Scotland may have just earned their place, and the places of all qualifying teams in the next few years, in the competition.

Inevitably, the fourth nation, regardless of who it may be, will enter the tournament as the underdog:  Australia have reached all previous finals; New Zealand are infamous in both league and union; and England are the most successful and dominant team in rugby league in the Northern Hemisphere.  So this fourth team will be in the shadow of three giants, but they should never be considered an easy fixture. 

Scotland’s fierce determination on Friday night secured their right to compete, and showed all other ‘fourth nations’ that it can be done.  Maybe their football team should also take note.

Laura McNally

Feature image courtesy of Colin Adland via Image license here. No changes made to this image.

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