A year on from Australia’s World Cup triumph at Old Trafford, the world’s top four rugby league nations go head-to-head in the southern hemisphere for the 2014 Four Nations title and fans can follow all the action this autumn with BBC Sport and Premier Sports.
With the domestic Super League and NRL seasons now over, attention turns to the international game for the finale to the 2014 season and the first edition of the now biennial Four Nations tournament since 2011.
England travel to the southern hemisphere to face world champions Australia, 2008 World Cup winners New Zealand and a potential banana skin in the form of Pacific islanders Samoa.
It is set to be a series of early rises for rugby league fans in the UK over the next four weeks, with the big game against Australia in the second weekend of the tournament on Sunday, November 2 kicking off at 05:00 GMT.
The RFL will be desperate for a good England showing, both to move on from the high profile Ben Flower incident in the Super League Grand Final and to make up for England’s disappointment at failing to make the World Cup final on home soil last year.
England’s first match will be against Samoa and coach Steve McNamara has named four new internationals in his 17-strong matchday squad, including Wigan’s scrum half Smith, who will still be smarting after the Grand Final defeat.
There are two new hookers in Josh Hodgson of Hull Kingston Rovers and Daryl Clark, whose magnificent form for Castleford saw him named 2014’s Man of Steel, the award for the best player in Super League.
They will be captained by Canterbury forward James Graham, once of St Helens, who led England in the 2010 tournament in the absence of the injured skipper Adrian Morley.
Samoa, who beat Fiji 32-16 in Penrith in May’s Four Nations qualifying match, could prove tricky opposition for the three established and world-leading rugby league nations as they get set to make their debut in the competition
Their squad consists mainly of NRL players, with prop Mose Masoe of St Helens and Wakefield Trinity hooker Pita Godinet the only European-based players, while stand-off Ben Roberts is set to join Castleford next year.
Toa Samoa were beaten quarter finalists in the 2013 World Cup, recording an impressive win over France in Perpignan in the group stage before losing 22-4 to Fiji in the last eight.
It was, though, their first match against the Kiwis of New Zealand in Warrington which proved most memorable: Samoa trailed 36-4 in the second half but rallied, scoring four unanswered tries bringing the score to 36-14 before a late New Zealand try settled a classic match.
For their part, the Kiwis enter the tournament as some peoples’ favourites, due in no small part to the injuries which have plagued the Kangaroos.
However, they are without prop Sam Moa, who has withdrawn for family reasons, and their superstar wing Sonny Bill Williams, who has returned to rugby union in time for next year’s World Cup in the 15-man code.
For all their selection issues – they have eleven players out injured – Australia still have captain Cameroon Smith, as well as the likes of Cooper Cronk, Sam Thaiday, Greg Bird and Greg Inglis to strike fear into any opponent.
The clash between them and New Zealand could be the game of the championship and immediately follows England’s match against Samoa in a Brisbane double-header on the opening weekend.
England will do well to record a victory against either of the ‘Big Two’, having not beaten either in the southern hemisphere since the Great Britain side was wound up after the 2007 series at home to New Zealand
Great Britain’s heroic 2006 win over Australia by eleven points remains the last notable British scalp in Oceania.
England welcome back Joel Tomkins, brother of star fullback Sam, from rugby union, but have lost their devastating forward Sam Burgess in the opposite direction, with the former Bradford and South Sydney player joining Bath and hoping to represent England in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
McNamara’s side is also without Leeds Rhinos legend Kevin Sinfield, who retired from international rugby league earlier this year.
England will be desperate to go one step further than in two of the three previous finals in which they were heavily beaten on both occasions by Australia, who still boast a phenomenally talented squad and are firm favourites to lift the title ahead of neighbours and co-hosts New Zealand.
Follow all the drama of the 2014 Four Nations with every England game live and free-to-air on BBC Two, while all seven games from the competition will be broadcast live on Premier Sports.
BBC Sport will screen live coverage of every England match during the 2014 Four Nations as Steve McNamara’s side travel to the southern hemisphere to face world champions Australia, New Zealand and newcomers Samoa.
The action kicks off bright and early on Saturday, October 25 with the first game of the tournament between England and Samoa in Brisbane, followed in subsequent weeks by two more early-morning meetings with Australia and New Zealand respectively, all of which will be shown live on BBC Two.
For the duration of the tournament, the BBC will base its coverage from their studios in Salford, with Mark Chapman and Tanya Arnold sharing presenting duties across all four weeks, with guests including Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Robbie Hunter-Paul joining them to provide expert analysis.
Commentators Dave Woods and Brian Noble will be out in Australia and New Zealand describing every moment of all three England games, along with former St Helens coach Ian Millward, with Woods also conducting pre and post match interviews with the key names.
If fans are unable to get up in to watch the live action on BBC Two, highlights programmes at a more civilised hour will follow on either BBC One or BBC Two, featuring the best of the action from each England encounter, plus extended highlights of the non-England games.
In addition to every England match, BBC Two will also broadcast live coverage of the 2014 Four Nations final on Saturday, November 15, from Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
BBC Sport’s rugby league website – bbc.co.uk/rugby league – will provide comprehensive coverage throughout the tournament, including a live stream of all matches shown on BBC TV and audio commentary from BBC Radio 5 live Sports Extra, plus live text commentaries, reports and opinion from the BBC pundits.
All TV/radio coverage will be available to watch/listen via the BBC Sport app on all mobile devices, while all of BBC TV’s Four Nations coverage will be available on catch-up via BBC iPlayer shortly after transmission.
Viewers with Connected TVs will be able to access BBC online content for the latest news, videos, interviews and highlights from the Championships.
BBC Sport has committed to broadcasting live international rugby league for the next three years, including the next four Nations 2016 and the next Rugby League World Cup in 2017, alongside its weekly highlights of the domestic Super League season and regular live Challenge Cup games.
Premier Sports will be the only place to watch all seven games from the 2014 Four Nations tournament in their entirety this autumn as it broadcasts the competition for the first time.
Along with live coverage of every England game, simulcast with the BBC, Premier Sports will be screening exclusive coverage of Australia’s head-to-head with their neighbours New Zealand on opening night in Brisbane on Saturday, October 25.
The subscription sports channel, which is available on Sky, Virgin and TalkTalk, as well as online, will also screen live coverage of the final from Wellington on Saturday, November 15, sharing coverage with the BBC.
Premier Sports’ coverage of all seven games will use the broadcast coverage and commentary feed of the respective host broadcasters – Channel 9 in Australia and Sky Sport NZ in New Zealand, with the latter’s coverage featuring respected rugby league broadcaster Andrew Voss, who led Premier’s coverage of last year’s Rugby League World Cup in England.
Alongside the live games, Premier Sports will also broadcast highlights of every match at various throughout its schedules across the week, giving subscribers the chance to catch up on the action they have missed.
Sky customers can subscribe to watch Premier Sports for £11.99 per month, which also includes free access to the online Premier Player, where fans can watch live streaming of the channel’s output and catch-up with any action they may have missed.
Premier Player is also available to anyone online for £9.99 per month, available across multiple devices including smartphones and tablets.
Further information about Premier Sports, including details on how to subscribe, can be found via premiersports.tv, or by accessing channel 428 on the Sky digital satellite platform, Virgin Media cable channel 551, or on TalkTalk channel 526.
Looking ahead, Premier Sports will also broadcast every match from next four Nations 2016 and the next Rugby League World Cup in 2017, as part of its four-year shared deal with the BBC announced last year.
.WEEK 1 Saturday 25th October ENGLAND 32-26 SAMOA Kick-off: 07:00 | Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane LIVE: 6.30am-9.00am BBC Two / 7.00am-9.00am Premier Sports AUSTRALIA 12-30 NEW ZEALAND Kick-off: 09:50 | Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane LIVE: 9.30am-12.00pm Premier Sports Four Nations: England v Samoa & Australia v New Zealand Highlights: 1.00pm-2.30pm BBC One
WEEK 2 Saturday 1st November NEW ZEALAND 14-12 SAMOA Kick-off: 03:00 | Toll Stadium, Whangarei LIVE: 2.55am-5.00am Premier Sports Sunday 2nd November AUSTRALIA 16-12 ENGLAND Kick-off: 05:00 | AAMI Park, Melbourne LIVE: 4.30am-7.00am BBC Two / 4.30am-7.00am Premier Sports Four Nations: Australia v England & New Zealand v Samoa Highlights: 4.00pm-5.00pm BBC Two
WEEK 3 Saturday 8th November NEW ZEALAND 16-14 ENGLAND Kick-off: 07:00 | Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin LIVE: 6.30am-9.00am BBC Two / 7.00am-9.00am Premier Sports Four Nations: New Zealand v England Highlights: 1.10pm-2.00pm BBC One Sunday 9th November AUSTRALIA 44-18 SAMOA Kick-off: 05:00 | WIN Stadium, Wollongong LIVE: 5.00am-7.00am Premier Sports Four Nations: Australia v Samoa Highlights: 10.00pm-11.00pm BBC Two
WEEK 4 Saturday 15th November NEW ZEALAND v AUSTRALIA – Final Kick-off: 07:45 | Westpac Stadium, Wellington LIVE: 7.15am-10.00am BBC Two / 7.30am-10.30am Premier Sports Highlights: 1.00pm-2.00pm BBC One