This years Gillette Tri Nations series looks to be a battle between the old and the new. We have in one corner the wily Wayne Bennett, a man who knows the game inside out. He realises his enemies strengths and weaknesses and when it comes to a game plan, there's none better than a Bennett plan.
The Brits have a cagey character as well in Brian Noble. He has shown a consistent skill at being able to bring a squad together, usually at very short notice, and meld them into a competitive unit capable of upsetting their southern hemisphere counterparts.
Then we have the new boy on the block. Brian McClennan, 'Bluey' to his mates. As yet untried in the International arena but a cunning and astute judge of player potential. McClennan has proved himself in NZ domestic competitions as well as being ex Kiwi Coach, Daniel Anderson's assistant for the last two seasons.
The scene looks set to be an interesting series with pundits once again placing the Aussies on the top of the heap, but I wouldn't be too sure of that.
The standard of Rugby League has lifted considerably in Britain in recent years. A lot of this can be placed on the shoulders of the Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Island players whose names seem to grace the ESL teamlists almost as regularly as British names. This has undoubtedly lifted the standards in the U.K competition creating the rivalry and hunger necessary to push these British athletes to equal (or, preferably better) these Antipodean players who have their sights set on their position in the team.
Likewise coaching, we have a large number of Aussie and one or two Kiwi coaches taking control of these teams, imparting their knowledge and, with the help of the import players, teaching the Brits how to beat the boys from down under.
The Kiwis? What a beginning. They get to play their arch rivals in the first two games. The selection of the Australian squad was very eagerly awaited news this side of the Tasman. Who were the weak links, where the Aussie strengths were and trying to glean as much information as was possible emanating from Camp Kangaroo.
The Kiwis like playing the Poms but love playing the Aussies. There is no feeling like it.
The Kiwi selectors caused some surprised murmurings at their unheard of selection of 40 players for this series. Some quality names were drawn from the players available and there is also a lot of talent coming from the lesser known,lower profile players.
The squad could quite conceivably grow when the second part of the Tri Nations competition takes place in Britain. There are a lot of quality New Zealand players plying their trade in the ESL.
Controversial non selections have hit the headlines in New Zealand. A feeling of frustration and discontent abounds with some NRL clubs preferring their stars opted for off season surgery to correct niggling injuries rather than see them play for their country. I guess it comes down to what is important, club or country.
The best news Kiwis had all season was the Little General, Stacey Jones declaring his eligibility for the two southern hemisphere games. Jones' inclusion has put an entirely different perspective on the Kiwi fans expectations of the results of these two games. Unfortunately Jones wont be partnered in the halves by teen sensation Benji Marshall. Benji will undergo corrective surgery to a serious shoulder injury and be out of action for 6 months post op.
Australia must surely go into this competition as favourites. Coach Bennett has stuck with his 'tried and true' formula and is using essentially an unbeaten International squad. The last five years have seen an Aussie team rampage over nearly every International team it has come up against. Perhaps this year the tables will be turned. Of course the ace up Bennett's sleeve must be the availability of arguably the greatest player the world has seen, Andrew Johns. 'Joey' creates options for the Australians with his kicking, his ability to read situations and just his mere presence on the paddock.
Given the fact that the Australian selectors were able to leave behind players of such obvious class as Anasta, Wing and Sing is an indication of the class of this green and gold outfit.
Bad news for Nathan Hindmarsh. His knee injury has failed to respond so he has been replaced by up and coming St George/Illawara Dragons forward, Ben Creagh.
Weak links? Perhaps huge forward Willie Mason's fitness level. Mason has played very little football this year through injury. The selection of Craig Gower has also raised a few eyebrows as has Timana Tahu.
The British squad will be named at the conclusion of the ESL competition in just over a weeks time.
One thing is for sure though, the Gillette Tri-Nations competition is going to be an absolute champion series.
Kiwi squad: Louis Anderson (Warriors), Roy Asotasi (Bulldogs), George Carmont (Newcastle), Nathan Cayless (Parramatta), Luke Covell (Cronulla), Greg Eastwood (Broncos), David Faiumu (Cowboys), Joe Galavao (Penrith), Awen Guttenbeil (Warriors), Dene Halatau (Tigers), Bronson Harrison (Tigers), Lance Hohaia (Warriors), Stacey Jones (Warriors), David Kidwell (Melbourne), Wairangi Koopu (Warriors), Tevita Latu (Cronulla), Phillip Leuluai (Cronulla), Kylie Leuluai (Manly), Peter Lewis (Parramatta), Jamaal Lolesi (Tigers), Steve Matai (Manly), Hutch Maiava (Cronulla), Benji Marshall (Tigers), Frank Pritchard (Penrith), Tony Puletua (Penrith), Frank Puletua (Penrith), Paul Rauhihi (Cowboys), Iafeta Palea'aesina (Warriors), Marcus Perenara (Parramatta), Iosia Soliola (Roosters), Jeremy Smith (Parramatta), Clinton Toopi (Warriors), Tame Tupou (Broncos), Glen Turner (Melbourne), Nigel Vagana (Cronulla), Manu Vatuvei (Warriors), Brent Webb (Warriors), Jake Webster (Melbourne), Paul Whatuira (Tigers), Ruben Wiki (Warriors). Australian squad: Trent Barrett (St George Illawarra), Danny Buderus (Newcastle Knights), Petero Civoniceva (Brisbane Broncos), Matt Cooper (St George Illawarra), Craig Fitzgibbon (Sydney Roosters), Mark Gasnier (St George Illawarra), Craig Gower (Penrith Panthers), Nathan Hindmarsh (Parramatta Eels), Andrew Johns (Newcastle Knights), Ben Kennedy (Manly Sea Eagles), Matt King (Melbourne Storm), Darren Lockyer - captain (Brisbane Broncos), Willie Mason (Bulldogs), Anthony Minichiello (Sydney Roosters), Luke O'Donnell (Nth Qld Cowboys) Mark O'Meley (Bulldogs), Steve Price (New Zealand Warriors), Scott Prince (Wests Tigers), Andrew Ryan (Bulldogs), Jason Ryles (St George Illawarra), Timana Tahu (Parramatta Eels), Brent Tate (Brisbane Broncos), Trent Waterhouse (Penrith Panthers).
TRI-NATIONS SCHEDULE Game 1 Sat. 15 October 2005 Australia v New Zealand 7.35pm Telstra Stadium
Game 2 Fri. 21 October 2005 New Zealand V Australia 8.00pm Ericsson Stadium
Game 3 Sat. 29 October 2005 Great Britain V New Zealand 6.15pm Loftus Road, London
Game 4 Sat. 5 November 2005 Great Britain v Australia 6.15pm JJB Stadium,Wigan
Game 5 Sat.12 November 2005 Great Britain v New Zealand 6.15pm Galpharm Stadium, Huddersfield
Game 6 Sat.19 November 2005 Great Britain v Australia 6.15pm KC Stadium, Hull
Final Sat. 26 November 2005 6.15pm Elland Road, Leeds
NB All kick-off times are local times.
More info: www.tri-nations.com.au
Discussion: Tri-Nations forum