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Rugby League WC Preview: Group A

Will Evans

Will Evans

Written on Tuesday, 22 October 2013 13:11

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Prospects: As coach Tim Sheens said before his team jetted off: this World Cup is the Kangaroos' to lose. The pain of their shock loss in the 2008 final will be particularly pertinent for the seven survivors of that campaign. Match fitness could initially be a concern, with only five members of the squad featuring in the preliminary finals or Grand Final. But Australia's overwhelming favouritism is certainly warranted – the green-and-golds' plethora of match-winners and strike weapons should see them take the spoils barring another capitulation.

Problem area: Incumbency versus form is a difficult paradigm to negotiate when selecting representative teams as dominant as the Kangaroos. Manly proved this year that age is but a number; however, seven of the line-up below are over 30, while another couple are on the verge of that milestone. Queensland bit the bullet by casting aside a pair of underperforming veterans this season, but it is doubtful whether Sheens will have the bottle to do same mid-tournament; Sam Thaiday's continued inclusion in the first-choice team would confirm that theory.

Hot Competition: Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd are set in stone as three-quarter selections, but Michael Jennings, Brent Tate and the Morris twins are fighting tooth-and-nail for the other two berths. International rookies Boyd Cordner and Josh Papalii will put pressure on the Kangaroos' experienced forwards.

Best Line-up: Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Michael Jennings, Brent Tate, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith (c), James Tamou, Nate Myles, Greg Bird, Paul Gallen. Int: Daly Cherry-Evans, Andrew Fifita, Luke Lewis, Corey Parker.

Coach: Mega-veteran Tim Sheens approaches his first World Cup in his fifth season in charge of the Kangaroos.

Odds: $1.38


Prospects: Perennial underachievers England have been bundled out at the semi-final stage of the last two World Cups by New Zealand. But with a strong squad and home advantage, the Poms will be hell-bent on taking out their first piece of tournament silverware since the 1972 World Cup (as Great Britain). Focus will undoubtedly be on the squad's star NRL contingent, but England desperately needs the likes of Sam Tomkins, Rangi Chase, Kevin Sinfield, Kallum Watkins and Ben Westwood to live up to their world-class billing. Making a statement in the tournament-opener against Australia is crucial – particularly after inexplicably going down 15-14 to World Cup debutants Italy in a warm-up fixture. Recent form at home against the Kiwis is a positive, having beaten their likely semi-final opponents in the last seven encounters on British soil dating back to 2005.

Problem area: Overcoming the 'Aussie supermen' complex. New Zealand has finally managed to avoid falling into that trap in recent years, but England still appears to be totally overawed when taking on the Kangaroos. The Poms are winless against Australia since 2006, when they caused a Sydney boilover as Great Britain during the Tri-Nations.

Hot Competition: Mainstays Ryan Hall and Tom Briscoe are locked in a three-way battle for wing spots with Wigan's young try-machine Josh Charnley.

Best Line-up: Sam Tomkins, Ryan Hall, Kallum Watkins, Leroy Cudjoe, Josh Charnley, Gareth Widdop, Rangi Chase, George Burgess, James Roby, James Graham, Sam Burgess, Sean O'Loughlin, Kevin Sinfield (c). Int: Rob Burrow, Gareth Hock, Lee Mossop, Ben Westwood.

Coach: Former Bradford coach Steve McNamara has been at the helm for England since 2010.

Odds: $8


Prospects: Securing the third quarter-final spot in Group A will be the Bati's minimum goal – they should be able to rack up a score against minnows Ireland – while they will fancy their chances of rolling hosts England in their final pool game. Semi-finalists in 2008, Fiji possesses even more firepower and class this time around – not to mention a quality coach in Rick Stone. Fiji's electric backline, and a forward pack that mixes the experience of Petero Civoniceva with dynamic tyros Tariq Sims and Jason Bukuya, ensures the Bati can't be taken lightly by the heavyweights in their pool. Destroyed Rochdale 78-0 in a warm-up match on the weekend.

Problem area: Fiji is light on halves options, with Stone likely to throw veteran Wes Naiqama into the No.6; first-choice hooker Aaron Groom was Fiji's halfback at the 2008 World Cup.

Hot Competition: The squad features plenty of backline depth, with Parramatta find Semi Radradra set to push Wests Tigers powerhouse Marika Koroibete hard for a wing spot.

Best Line-up: Kevin Naiqama, Akuila Uate, Daryl Millard, Sisa Waqa, Marika Koroibete, Wes Naiqama, Ryan Millard, Petero Civoniceva, Aaron Groom, Ashton Sims, Tariq Sims, Jason Bukuya, Vitale Junior. Int: Kane Evans, Korbin Sims, James Storer, Semi Radradra.

Coach: Former Newcastle head coach and current Knights assistant Rick Stone is one of the best in the business – his acquisition is a massive coup for the Fijians.

Odds: $126


Prospects: Despite the presence of a few quality NRL and Super League players, Ireland will be hard-pressed to progress out of the group stage thanks to a daunting pool. The nation has struggled against fellow emerging countries Wales, Scotland and France in recent European Cup campaigns, and may even battle to compete with Fiji. Ireland caused a major boilover at the 2008 World Cup by whipping Samoa 34-16; Wigan and former Wests Tigers star Pat Richards scored 22 points that day, and the popular 31-year-old winger looms as a key figure for the Irish again. An all-NRL front-row of former Kangaroo Brett White, North Queensland utility Rory Kostjasyn and Manly rookie James Hasson should see Ireland hold their own up the middle, while hosting Australia in Limerick to close Group A's pool play shapes as one of the highlights of the tournament.

Problem area: Ireland has covered the key areas impressively – fullback Scott Grix and halfback Marc Sneyd are seasoned Super League performers, while likely five-eighth Apirana Pewhairangi debuted for Parramatta this year – but tryscoring clout may present a problem up against the dangerous Australia, England and Fiji backlines.

Hot Competition: Teammates at Super League heavyweights Warrington, Ben Currie, Tyrone McCarthy and Danny Bridge are fighting it out for backrow spots.

Best Line-up: Scott Grix, Damien Blanch, James Mendeika, Joshua Toole, Pat Richards, Apirana Pewhairangi, Marc Sneyd, James Hasson, Rory Kostjaysn, Brett White, Ben Currie, Dave Allen, Tyrone McCarthy. Int: Danny Bridge, Anthony Mullally, Eamon O'Carroll, Luke Ambler.

Coach: Mark Aston played one Test for Great Britain and was the Lance Todd Trophy recipient in Sheffield Eagles' Challenge Cup boilover against Wigan in 1998, while he has been coach of the Eagles since 2007.

Odds: $501

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