MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The Four Nations trophy has alternated between Australia and New Zealand since its expansion in 2009.
With the brain of Wayne Bennett and the brawn of Sam Burgess, England might have the combination to threaten the southern hemisphere's dominance of the tournament.
The English pulled off quite a coup in February by persuading Bennett, possibly the world's greatest rugby league coach in a generation, to become its coach through the 2017 World Cup. The appointment continued English sport's obsession with Australian coaches, with Trevor Bayliss at the helm of England's cricket team and Eddie Jones in charge of the country's rugby union side.
Bennett's challenge is to bring England to the level of Australia and New Zealand, who have combined to win every Rugby League World Cup and Tri/Four Nations title since 1972. The 66-year-old Queenslander has the pedigree after leading Brisbane and St. George Illawarra to seven premierships in the Australia's National Rugby League, and he also was an assistant to Stephen Kearney when New Zealand won the World Cup in 2008.
"He keeps things quite simple and instills a lot of confidence and belief into his players," England prop James Graham said.
Helping Bennett is the presence of Burgess, who returned to the 13-man code with the South Sydney Rabbitohs in Australia in late 2015 after spending a year in rugby union that included playing in the Rugby World Cup.
Burgess, nicknamed "Slammin' Sam" because of his powerful runs and hits, is England's captain for the Four Nations and is about to make his first rugby league international appearances since the 2013 World Cup.
"I'll be a better player for this last 12 months," Burgess said of his whirlwind time across both codes. "I think I've come back a better person and player."
England has reached two of the four finals in the Four Nations, losing to Australia both times in 2009 and 2011 on home soil.
The Australians — who have won five of the nine titles since the event began in 1999 — are the favorites under Mal Meninga, the great test center who has been their national team coach for a year. The Kangaroos have won both matches so far under Meninga and were especially impressive in a 26-6 victory over New Zealand in Perth on Oct. 15.
Australia won the last major tournament held in England and Wales, the 2015 World Cup, when it thrashed New Zealand 34-2 in the final.
New Zealand is the defending champion and starts out against England in Huddersfield on Saturday, without injured pair Simon Mannering and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for the whole tournament.
Scotland is fourth team involved and is making its debut in the competition after winning the 2014 European Cup. No team outside the sport's big three has won a game in four editions of the Four Nations.
The competition begins Friday when Scotland takes on Australia in Hull. The final takes place at Anfield, the home of English soccer giant Liverpool, on Nov. 20.