ENGLAND successfully defended their WRL Four Nations title in Rochdale over the past weekend, which saw some of the best international games the sport has ever seen writes John Seager.
The tournament started with Wales up against the Exiles – a team made up of a mix of Irish, Welsh and English players. The Exiles started the game really well, they capitalised on some early nerves from Wales, and they held an early lead from two tries from Joshua Butler.
Despite Wales scoring a try through Andrew Higgins, the Exiles finished the first half on top, as Butler completed a first half hat-trick to give them a six point lead at half time.
The Welsh came out after the break a different side and dominated the rest of the game after taking the lead when their vice-captain Stuart Williams scored his first try.
Higgins completed his hat trick and a try for James Roberts completed a great second half for Wales, as they won 42-18.
Tournament favourites and defending champions England started their tournament against Scotland and raced off to a good start, both Adam Barnett and Nathan Collins scoring two tries to give them an early 16-point lead.
They went up another gear when Barnett took his first half tally of tries to four and co-captain Martin Lane scored his first try to extent the gap to 30 points.
England closed out the first half on top; Collins completed his hat trick, and further tries from Keiron Johnson and Sebastian Bechara meant that England led 58-10 at half-time.
England continued to dominate the game in the second half. Bechara, James Simpson and Tom Haliwell crossed, and the aspiring champions closed with a hat-trick for Ryan Richardson and another try for Simpson, comfortably winning the game 98-10.
The second round of fixtures began with Scotland entertaining Wales, who were looking to perform well following on their excellent win over the Exiles.
Wales continued on from their excellent second half against the Exiles, with Stuart Williams, Mark Williams and Harry Jones all scoring a try each to give them an early 10-point lead.
Scotland took the game to Wales through Michael Mellon to close the gap to four points, but a second Stuart Williams touchdown gave Wales a 10-point point lead at the break.
Wales went up a gear on the resumption; a penalty and a field goal from Andrew Higgins, followed by a try each for Mark Williams and Gary Preece put them 23 points clear.
Scotland did mount a late comeback as Mellon added a fourth try and Daniel Grant scored, but it wasn’t enough to catch Wales, who won their second game 41-28.
England then showed off a master class of Wheelchair Rugby League against the Exiles, as they pulled off an impressive win in the final game held on Saturday.
They started on the front foot and opened the scoring with two tries from Nathan Collins, followed by a try each for Ryan Richardson and Tom Haliwell.
Collins completed an impressive first half hat-trick for England. This was followed by a try each for Martin Lane, Adam Barnett and a first England try for Nathan Mulhall as England led 46-0 at half-time.
England continued the strong performance into the second half; Collins added a fourth try which was followed by a second try of the game for Richardson, and a first touchdown for James Simpson and Kieron Johnson.
England closed on a high; second tries of the game for Richardson and Lane, with a brace for Sebastian Bechara, meaning that England picked up their second win of the tournament with a 94-0 victory.
The final round of round robin fixtures began on Sunday morning when the two unbeaten sides, England and Wales, played out a well contested match.
England started the game with a try from Nathan Mulhall and an excellent aerobatic try for Martin Lane.
Wales were still holding onto England and were just eight points behind them when Martin Beddis scored a try, an Andrew Higgins penalty keeping them in the game.
A late try for Sebastian Bechara meant that England led by 14 points at the interval, and they further extended that lead into the second half when Tom Haliwell added two more touchdowns.
England dominated the rest of the game. Jodie Boyd-Ward, James Simpson and Nathan Collins all scored, and a late second try for Mulhall meant that England progressed to the final unbeaten, on the back of a 56-14 success.
The final round-robin game of the tournament produced an exciting game between the Exiles and Scotland, who posted two quick tries through Daniel Grant.
But the Exiles were brought to life by Ewan Cibbens, who exploited the Scottish defence and scored five first-half tries to give them a commanding lead.
Stewart Walker added two more tries to give the Exiles a 42-12 lead at the interval, after which they increased their lead with two tries for Joshua Butler, a sixth try of the game for Cibbens and a touchdown for Luis Domingues.
Scotland got two consolation tries, by Daniel and Michael Grant, but they couldn’t catch the Exiles, who prevailed 62-18.
With the round robin phase of the tournament completed, the action moved onto the third and fourth place playoff between Scotland and the Exiles. Both sides put on a good game of Wheelchair Rugby League with the action going from end to end.
Scotland opened the scoring, Michael Mellon continuing a great tournament by adding two tries.
But it was the Exiles who gained the advantage when Josh Butler snared two tries before Ewan Cibbens notched a touchdown just before half-time to give the Exiles a two-point lead.
The second half came alive when Butler completed a hat-trick, and this was followed by an excellently timed field goal from Cibbens to give the Exiles a seven-point advantage.
Scotland worked hard to get back into the game, retaking a one-point lead with 10 minutes left when Mellon added two more tries.
The Exiles never gave up and reinstated their lead through two well-worked tries, by Tom Martin and Sebastian Groves.
Scotland almost caught the Exiles with a late try for Michael Grant, but the Exiles held on for a 29-26 verdict.
The Final, between Wales and unbeaten England, was played in front of a packed-out crowd.
England started the game well, with an impressive first half hat trick from Ryan Richardson and a try from their co-captain James Simpson for an 18-point lead.
Wales replied with a solo try from Andrew Higgins, but further England tries from Martin Lane and Adam Barnett established a 24-point buffer at half-time.
Wales got back into the game in the second half with three more tries, by Stuart Williams, Mark Williams and Gavin Preece, as they clawed the gap back to fourteen points.
But a late surge from England, including tries from Jodie Boyd-Ward and a second try of the game each from Lane and Barnett, meant that England retained the Four Nations trophy with a 52-26 victory.
Exiles: Stewart Walker (C), Luis Domingos, Tom Martin, Sebastian Groves, Josh Butler, Robert Hawkins, Ewan Clibbens, Tony Godward, Joseph Batchelor.
Wales: Mark Williams (C), Stuart Williams, Andrew Higgins, Martin Beddis, Harry Jones, James Roberts, Gary Taylor, Alan Caron, Gary Preece.
Scotland: Graeme Stewart (C), Daniel Harris, Daniel Grant, Michael Grant, Gavin Dobson, Michael Mellon, John Cairns, Jay Anderson, Ronnie Robb, Stephen Carling.
England:Martin Lane (C), James Simpson (C), Sebastian Bechara, Jodie Boyd-Ward, Adam Barnett, Tom Haliwell, Nathan Mulhall, Ryan Richardson, Nathan Collins, Kieron Johnson.