Two Weekends Down: Who Wins the Rugby League World Cup?
With two preliminary group rounds completed at this year’s Rugby League World Cup, we look at who can win the tournament.
EnglandEmbed from Getty Images
England started the tournament strongly with a sensational win over Samoa to open the tournament before accounting for France at the weekend. The inclusion of Victor Radley has bolstered their pack. Former English captain Jamie Peacock is backing England to go all the way and win the World Cup. The question mark will remain around whether the balance between Super League and NRL players in the squad is good enough to win the tournament after being agonisingly close in 2017. We may just have that question answered should they meet the Kangaroos in the semi-finals.
Samoa was smashed in the opening game but wiped out their 54-piont difference in thrashing Greece on Sunday. They have some outstanding players who can win games such as the leadership up front of Josh Papali’i, the magic of Jarome Luai in the halves and Joseph Suaali’i at fullback. But will injuries stop Samoa from taking out the competition? They’ve lost Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Braden Hamlin-Uele and now there’s a cloud over Josh Aloiai.
AustraliaEmbed from Getty Images
Australia may have been dusting off the cobwebs in their first up win over Fiji but were clinical against Scotland with Nathan Cleary scoring 28 points in his international debut. What could derail the Kangaroo’s campaign is Mal Meninga call on who plays in the halves in the knockout stage, where he appeared to favour Daly Cherry-Evans ahead of the two-time Panthers premiership winning captain. If they maintain their focus, they will be there in the final and a strong chance to take out the Cup for a twelfth time.
Fiji have bounced back from their loss to Australia to record a good win against Italy on Saturday. Should they account for Scotland in their final pool match, Fiji will face New Zealand in the quarter-finals at MKM Stadium in Hull. In the 2017 tournament they ended the Kiwi’s tournament with victory 4-2. This time around they face a much stronger side and will need something special from Viliame Kikau, Apisai Koroisau and Maika Sivo to cause a boil over and advance to the semi-finals.
New ZealandEmbed from Getty Images
New Zealand have breezed past Lebanon and Jamaica in their opening two games at the tournament and should do similar against the Irish this weekend. What’s been most impressive about this Kiwi side is the skills in their outside backs. Joey Manu has gone up a level this year with his game play and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was superb in their Jamaica victory. Their forward pack is solid and experience, making them a strong all-round team. They deserve to be favourites to take out the tournament but may face their biggest challenge in a likely showdown with Samoa in the semi-finals.
Lebanon looks likely to qualify as runner-up in Pool C despite Ireland holding down second spot ahead of their clash with New Zealand. Should they qualify for the knock-out stage, they will face Australia first up in the quarter-finals. It would be the biggest World Cup boilover in history should they win that match given the depth in the Australian squad. Despite having Mitch Moses and Adam Doueihi in the halves, it seems unlikely they’ll feature in the final four.
TongaEmbed from Getty Images
Tonga pulled off the great escape with Keaon Koloamatangi scoring three minutes from time to take victory over Papua New Guinea. They should progress in top spot with wins over Wales and Cook Islands in their remaining matches. If they do finish top of their pool, they will face Samoa in a Pacific blockbuster in the quarter-finals, before a possible showdown with New Zealand in the semi-finals. Their hopes will sit with Jason Taumalolo returning from suspension and his influence on a site boasting Will Penisini, Konrad Hurrell, Haumole Olakau’atu and Koloamatangi. If they can get past the quarter-finals and upstage New Zealand in the semi-finals, they could just be the smoky to take out the tournament.
Papua New Guinea
Despite losing their opening game against Tonga, it’s expected Papua New Guinea will be runners-up in Group D. It would be their third qualification for the quarter-finals stage after bowing out to England at the 2017 tournament. It’s likely those two teams will meet again should the Kumuls advance. The loss of Xavier Coates is a huge blow for the backline, but they have more than capable attacking players in Alex Johnston, Justin Olam and Nene MacDonald to give the quarter-finals a good shake. It’s unlikely they can advance past that stage, but a knock-out phase elimination would be a great result for them.
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