Rugby League World Cup preview
Rugby League World Cup preview

What we can’t wait to see in the RLWC

THE World Cup will kick off on Friday night with a marquee clash between England and Australia in Melbourne.

With seven matches this weekend our team of rugby league experts will run their eye over every single game and what to look for in each clash.

Friday October 27

Australia v England at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Melbourne, 8pm (AEDT)

Will Australia run away with the Rugby League World Cup? Probably.

Mal Meninga's men are hot favourites to defend their 2013 title, so all eyes will be on their opponents in the tournament opener.

The Wayne Bennett-coached England are viewed as one of the few sides that can - maybe - test the Kangaroos, and they'll get the perfect opportunity to prove it in Melbourne.

A comfortable win for the Roos would only reinforce predictions that this is Australia's World Cup to lose.

So can the English throw up a result that will throw the World Cup right open?

Possibly, but they'll need plenty to go their way - after all, it's been 22 years since England tasted rugby league success against Australia.

Led by Sam Burgess, James Graham and skipper Sean O'Loughlin they have the pack to match it with the Aussie forwards, and Josh Hodgson and Gareth Widdop can spark their attack.

They will all need to be firing in order for England to perform to a level that can challenge Australia - and all those pre-tournament predictions.

Bennett's position as England coach could come under a little bit of pressure if his boys don't put up a credible showing.

Wayne Bennett during an England training session.
Wayne Bennett during an England training session.

Saturday October 28

Papua New Guinea v Wales at Oil Search National Football Stadium, Port Moresby, 4pm (AEDT)

The Kumuls will play their first World Cup match on home soil in front of a maniacal home crowd in Port Moresby. Bolstered by the progress made by the PNG Hunters, the Kumuls have put together one of the best teams in their history and given all three matches will be played on PNG soil they should be warm favourites to go through to the quarter finals.

Wales are the only team in the competition without a single game of NRL experience but have a squad that's been together for a long time - they'll be far from a pushover.

Michael Marum has gone right over the deep end and named four hookers in his 17 man squad for Saturday's clash.

Wartovo Puara will start at dummy half, Paul Aiton will start at lock while Kurt Baptiste and James Segeyaro will come off the bench. It's going to be right out of control and we can't wait to see how Marum, one of the best young coaches in the world, will handle his abundance of quality hookers.

James Segeyaro will make his return for PNG. Picture: Zak Simmonds
James Segeyaro will make his return for PNG. Picture: Zak Simmonds

New Zealand v Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, 6.10pm (AEDT)

Players have been fleeing the Kiwi team in droves and coach David Kidwell is under serious pressure following an underwhelming Four Nations performance last season.

Things don't get any easier with a tricky match coming up against a strong Samoan side with plenty to prove - even without Brisbane five-eighth Anthony Milford Samoa still boast plenty of NRL experience including Joey Leilua, Josh Papalii and Junior Paulo.

New Zealand still have a deadly forward pack but outside Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Shaun Johnson the backline lacks a bit of spark. If the Kiwis are to go on something of a giant killing run, they desperately need those two to fire.

Given their 18-all draw with Scotland last season nothing less than a clinical, complete performance against Samoa will do here, especially given the marquee clash with Tonga in a few weeks.

New Zealand coach David Kidwell announces Kiwis captain Adam Blair.
New Zealand coach David Kidwell announces Kiwis captain Adam Blair.

Fiji v USA at Townsville Stadium, Townsville, 8.40pm (AEDT)

Jarryd Hayne might not have known it at the time but his spell with Fiji for the 2008 World Cup would be the turning point of his career. The experience was somewhat cathartic and helped transform him as a player and catapulted him to the upper echelon of rugby league.

Fast forward 10 years and Hayne finds himself in a similar predicament.

His efforts for the Titans haven't matched his pay packet and his disposition at times seems to suggest a level of general disinterest.

The Bati have given him another a chance to silence the doubters.

Will he take it?

Jarryd Hayne during Fiji training. Pic Annette Dew
Jarryd Hayne during Fiji training. Pic Annette Dew

Sunday, October 29

Ireland v Italy at Barlow Park, Cairns, 3pm (AEDT)

One can only imagine the kind of pressure rising halves feel when they are burdened by being compared to the eighth Immortal, Andrew Johns.

Now imagine the expectation that comes with being the kid charged with carrying on the Johns' league legacy.

Jack Johns, Matty's son and Andrew's nephew, will make his international debut at halfback. Talk about pressure.

Johns is versatile and has played in a number of positions this year including second row, lock and five-eighth but will partner veteran Terry Campese in the no. 7 jumper in the halves.

In a trial match against Tonga, Johns ran the show and confidentially took control of his side's attack, showing maturity well beyond his years.

If the 20-year old has a starring performance in Cairns, expect the comparisons to his legendary uncle to come in thick and fast.

Jack Johns during an Italy training session. PICTURE: STEWART McLEAN
Jack Johns during an Italy training session. PICTURE: STEWART McLEAN

France v Lebanon at Canberra Stadium, Canberra, 4pm (AEDT)

It could be argued that this is the most important game the Cedars will play in their history. Beating France means they earn a spot in the quarterfinals, but more importantly it will guarantee qualification for the next world cup.

So a lot is riding on a win in Canberra and will have a ripple effect on this minnow nation's attempt to grow the game locally.

Raymond Sabat, who plays for Lycans FC, is the only player in the 21-man squad that is a product of Lebanon's local competition.

The rest of the side is made of guys who ply their trade in the NSW lower grades with a smattering of NRL talent.

Most might see Lebanon as just making up the numbers in this tournament but for the Cedars this is an opportunity to grow the game and build on league's popularity in the Middle East.

Raymond Sabat (far right) is the only player from Lebanon in the Cedars’ 21-man squad. Picture by Damian Shaw
Raymond Sabat (far right) is the only player from Lebanon in the Cedars’ 21-man squad. Picture by Damian Shaw

Scotland v Tonga at Barlow Park, Cairns, 5.15pm (AEDT)

JASON Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita's defection to Tonga gave the entire competition a shot in the arm and has struck up a serious surge in interest for the tier two nations.

Along with Manu Ma'u, Solomone Kata, David Fusitu'a and Tuimoala Lolohea, the Tongans boast a squad that is absolutley red hot and they'll be the hottest ticket in town in this clash with Scotland.

The Scots are hevay outsiders but don't write them off - they escaped with an 18-all draw with New Zealand last year in the Four Nations and have a lot of English based talent, particularly in the halves where Danny Addy will partner Bravehearts legend Danny Brough.

Of particular interest will be the performance of Tongan halves Ata Hingano and Tuimoala Lolohea - if the Tongans have serious ambitions to upset one of the big three those two will need to fire.

Crowd favourite Jason Taumalolo runs out at Callendar Park.
Crowd favourite Jason Taumalolo runs out at Callendar Park.