Rugby League World Cup favourites Australia meet France at the Canberra Stadium on Friday looking to move one step closer to quarter-final qualification.
The Kangaroos defeated England in Pool A’s opening match, and a win over the French will almost assure Mal Meninga’s side of a last eight spot. France are facing an uphill battle to qualify for the knockout stages – their 29-18 defeat to Lebanon last Sunday means they must beat Australia this weekend – and hope England successfully negotiate their tie with the Cedars – to have any chance of qualification.
Australia and France will meet on Friday for the first time this decade. Their last clash was in the 2009 Four Nations when the Kangaroos ran out 42-2 winners. Debutant Michael Jennings scored a hat-trick of tries while Kurt Gidley, who recently retired, was the chief goal kicker.
France’s contribution came from forward Olivier Elima, who latched onto Thomas Bosc’s high kick for the only French try of the game.
Skip forward eight years, and Meninga will start four uncapped players at the 2017 World Cup. Full-back Tom Trbojevic, whose brother Jake will miss the rest of the tournament with a torn pectoral tendon, will be given his test debut, as will 24-year-old Penrith Panthers prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
Melbourne Storm duo Cameron Munster and Felise Kaufusi are set to start on the bench, with winger Josh Mansour, half-back James Maloney and forward Josh McGuire also brought in as Meninga makes full use of his squad.
France centre Bastien Ader, who scored a brace of tries in his side’s loss to Lebanon, keeps his place in the squad while Damien Cardace, who grabbed the third French try last Sunday, loses out. Elsewhere, half-back William Barthau is replaced by Catalans Dragons’ Lambert Belmas and Toulouse prop Clement Boyer makes way for former London Broncos man Maxime Herold.
The second-row positions of both sides are crucial on Friday – with Wade Graham and Tyson Frizell set to start for Australia, they will come up against Benjamin Garcia of Catalans and Warrington Wolves’ Benjamin Jullien. Australia’s pack were tested for the first 23 minutes against England, but eventually found a way through. It will be up to Garcia and Jullien, as well as the rest of the French side, to prevent Aurelien Cologni’s men suffering the same fate.
Australia will have too much depth and talent for this French side – for which there should be no sign of victory. Australia by 36.
AUSTRALIA V FRANCE
Friday November 3, 8pm at Canberra Stadium
Australia squad: 1. Billy Slater 2. Tom Trbojevic 3. Will Chambers 4. Josh Dugan 5. Josh Mansour 6. Michael Morgan 7. James Maloney 8. Jordan McLean 9. Cameron Smith (c) 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 11. Wade Graham 12. Tyson Frizell 13. Josh McGuire 14. Cameron Munster 15. Felise Kaufusi 16. Aaron Woods 17. David Klemmer 18. Valentine Holmes 19. Matt Gillett 20. Boyd Cordner 21. Dane Gagai
France squad: 1 Mark Kheirallah 2 Fouad Yaha 3 Bastien Ader 4 Olivier Arnaud 5 Ilias Bergal 6 Remy Marginet 7 Theo Fages (c) 8 Maxime Herold 9 Eloi Pelissier 10 Julian Bousquet 11 Benjamin Garcia 12 Benjamin Jullien 13 Jason Baitieri 14 Thibault Margalet 15 Mickael Rouch 16 Romain Navarrete 17 John Boudebza 18 Lucas Albert 19 Antonio Maria 20 Nabil Djalout 21 Lambert Belmas