Another Rugby League World Cup is nearly here, with defending champions Australia (co-hosting with New Zealand and Papua New Guinea) strong favourites.
Once again, the tournament’s pool structure is heavily favoured towards strong teams, with six teams from Group A and B (Australia, England, France, Lebanon, New Zealand, Samoa, Scotland, Tonga) qualifying for finals and just two from Groups C and D (PNG, Wales, Ireland, Fiji, Italy, USA).
Australia, England and New Zealand are guaranteed quarter finalists, so who will make up the remaining five teams?
GROUP A: France and Lebanon’s game at Bruce Stadium on Sunday October 29 will decide the third Group A finalist. Lebanon’s big ticket is captain Robbie Farah, leading some local talent from the NRL and NSW Cup. That local experience will get them over the line in Canberra.
GROUP B: Samoa and Tonga play on Saturday November 4 at Waikato’s Hamilton Stadium. It’ll be electric, and will decide who finishes second or third. Both sides have played in the NRL’s mid-season Pacific Tests (this year, Tonga beat Fiji 26-24 and Samoa lost to England 30-10) and both teams will be bursting with NRL talent. Samoa should do enough to finish second. The fourth team, Scotland, won’t have enough class if their huge loss to the Country Under 23s is any guide.
GROUP C: Papua New Guinea – with three games in Port Moresby – are hot favourites to make the quarter finals. They should comfortably beat Wales, Ireland and USA, especially with all their PNG Hunters experience.
GROUP D: Like PNG, Fiji are heavy favourites to make the finals. Fiji play USA, Wales and Italy and – with the controversial Jarryd Hayne – should win all three.
So the quarter finalists should be:
17 November 2017, A1 (Australia) v B3 (Tonga), Darwin
18 November 2017, B2 (Samoa) v D1 (Fiji), Christchurch
18 November 2017, B1 (New Zealand) v A3 (Lebanon), Wellington
19 November 2017, A2 (England) v C1 (PNG), Melbourne
24 November 2017, QF1 Winner (Australia) v QF2 Winner (Samoa), Brisbane
25 November 2017, QF3 Winner (New Zealand) v QF4 Winner, (England), Auckland
…and the final, a rematch of the captivating 2008 World Cup final.
2 December 2017, SF1 Winner (Australia) v SF2 Winner (New Zealand), Brisbane
Expect a massive Lang Park crowd full of Aussies and Kiwis for the big game.