Tri-Nations will be close

Brian McClennan, coach of defending Tri-Nations champions New Zealand, is predicting the closest tournament yet.

The Kiwis are jointly hosting this year?s series, which gets under way on October 14 in Auckland.

"It has become the norm for people to say that Australia are going to win it but Great Britain have been making good strides and we?ve made some steady progress, so I think there?s a real excitement about what could happen this tournament," said McClennan.

"I really believe this series is going to be the best we?ve had so far. There?s some continuity in what?s been happening - there?s a bit of knowledge on each squad and what they do."

Britain were represented at the launch by Sydney Roosters? former Leeds forward Adrian Morley, who is currently serving a seven-match ban.

"Brian Noble has a very clear plan on what he expects from us and the lads I?ve spoken to have said there?s a really determined feel amongst the squad," said Morley.

Australia, who suffered a shock 24-0 defeat in last November?s final at Elland Road, are favourites to regain the title they held in 2004 but new coach Ricky Stuart is expecting a difficult opening Test in Auckland.

"The Kiwis are always a lot stronger when playing at home," he said. "Test-match footy in New Zealand generally means it?s cold, windy and wet.

"We?re going around on their home turf, we?re playing the Tri-Nations champions and I think we?ll have a different attitude.

"From our first match in Auckland we need to start on the right note."

Group matches will also be staged in Melbourne, Christchurch, Sydney, Wellington and Brisbane, with the final taking place in Sydney on November 25.

"This is the fourth Tri-Nations tournament with a great tradition building around the concept and I truly believe the best series is yet to come," said International Federation chairman Colin Love.

"Early ticket sales in Australia have been really encouraging, Melbourne in particular."