THE BLOG

Eight Players to Watch in the Four Nations

23/10/2014 17:27 BST | Updated 23/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Rugby League is often seen as the ugly, forgotten brother to the more globally recognised Rugby Union and while it was in the news in the UK for the wrong reasons after Ben Flower's assault on Lance Hohaia in the Super League Grand Final, it's hard to deny that the sport does produce some truly outstanding players.

With the 2014 Four Nations starting on Saturday with a double header of England vs Samoa and world champions Australia vs New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium it feels as good a time as any to have a look at some of the players to keep an eye out for over the next four weeks.

Australia

The world champions are going into this tournament with a number of their best players out due to injury however there's no such thing as a bad Kangaroos side in rugby league and even without the likes of Jonathan Thurston, Billy Slater and Matt Scott they still boast some of the best players in the world.

Greg Inglis: The outstanding South Sydney fullback is in great form and is quite simply one of the best attacking weapons in the game. Allying power, pace and agility with the ability to create tries from the boot and from hand Inglis will be key to Australia's chances of retaining the Four Nations trophy.

Sam Thaiday: In a relatively small Kangaroos pack, the experienced Broncos and Queensland backrower will have an important job to ensure that the home side get some real go forward against three big opposition sets of forwards. Thaiday is a reluctant prop forward but with the likes of Matt Scott, James Tamou and Paul Gallen out, a lot of carrying will fall on his shoulders.

England

After coming so close to a home World Cup Final in 2013, this is the first opportunity for Steve McNamara's side to build for the next World Cup in 2017. The England squad has a number of new faces but with arguably the best pack in the tournament McNamara and his charges will feel cautiously optimistic of getting their first win away from home over Australia or New Zealand since 2006.

George Burgess: While his older brother Sam took much of the plaudits and the Clive Churchill Medal from the NRL Grand Final, it was George who was probably the most effective South Sydney forward on the night. The powerhouse prop is one of the best front rowers in the NRL and won't be far behind captain James Graham in driving a massive England pack forward throughout the tournament.

Kallum Watkins: Nobody doubts the power of the English pack and for years England have produced forwards that can match any in the world yet where they have often fallen behind is in their ability to hurt teams out wide. However in Leeds Rhino centre Watkins they have a genuine attacking weapon. Big and quick and working alongside genuine try scorers in Sam Tomkins and Josh Charnley he could be the real difference for England.

New Zealand

While there are a number of new faces in the New Zealand squad, there is an experienced core which to my mind makes the former world champions the favourites for the tournament. After pushing a much stronger Australian team close during the Anzac Test earlier this summer, they will feel pretty confident going into their opener in Brisbane.

Shaun Johnson: He may be the obvious choice but the NZ Warriors halfback is someone who is worth the entrance price alone. Hailed as the "New Benji Marshall" by Phil Gould, he is the sort of player who the phrase "X-Factor" was made for. His partnership with Kieran Foran and Thomas Leuluai will play a huge role in getting the most out of the talent around them.

Simon Mannering: The New Zealand captain is the heartbeat of this side and despite a slow start (by his standards) to the 2014 season he was hitting the sort of form we come to expect of him by the time the play-offs rolled around. Mannering will carry all day and tackle all night and will be key to nullifying the power of the England pack later this tournament.

Samoa

Samoa will be described as "spirited" in many previews but that does them a disservice and is a little bit patronising. The Samoan side is full of top NRL talent and while they are without the likes of Anthony Milford and Junior Sa'u they still have quality throughout their squad and none of the "Big Three" will or should take them lightly.

Josh McGuire: The Brisbane Broncos forward is certainly not the shy and retiring type and with a couple of immensely physical games to start the tournament McGuire will be central to any hopes Samoa have of springing an upset. With a heavy hitting pack around him, he can certainly make his mark and could come away from the next four weeks with his stock on the rise.

Joey Leilua: While Samoa are missing the star of their 2013 World Cup campaign Anthony Milford, they do have real talent in the backline and Newcastle's powerful centre will offer a potent combination with Canberra's Daniel Vidot. At over 100kg he certainly packs a punch and has been on the cusp of State of Origin selection in recent years so should not be taken lightly over the next few weeks.