The 2017 Rugby League World Cup is almost upon us, and whilst it doesn’t have the worldwide hype of other International tournaments, there is plenty to interest even the most casual of rugby league fan.
14 Nations will compete in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup which will be hosted in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, and all 14 will have a story. Most of which we try and cover below with 10 points of Interest for the upcoming Rugby League World Cup.
This story was previously published at the Fox Sports Academy.
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All too easy for Australia then?
Looking at the squad Australia have assembled, it looks like the perfect mix of winning experience in the form of Premiership and Origin winners Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and hungry new additions like Tom and Jake Trbojevic, Regan Campbell-Gillard and Cameron Munster. It looks a squad of quality for now and the future.
Could then complacency become an issue? Unlikely given Mal Meninga at the helm. The man who led Queensland to so much prolonged success is not in the business of losing key matches, and establishing proper legacies. He has yet to lose a match in charge of the Kangaroos and it is hard to see any nation ruining that record in this World Cup.
Will anyone beat the Kangaroos? Probably not.
Tonga – The Tournament Dark Horse
With the surprise defections of Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita, the Tongans have added some real quality to a squad that already looked very capable of a surprise in the tournament. With two of the NRL’s most dangerous forwards, they must now be considered a chance to no only be the best of the teams outside the big three but a genuine threat to steal their thunder.
The previously mentioned big two names will surely provide quality, but they are not the only two big NRL names in the squad. Tongan Captain Will Hopoate, Konrad Hurrell, Michael Jennings and Solomone Kata are just some of the name with loads of NRL experience that could propel Tonga to unexpected glory.
There’s also fan favourite Manu Vatuvei, who it will be great to see in action once again.
If the big names and rest of the squad can gel together there’s no reason they can’t beat New Zealand and win the pool to set up a potential final berth against the Australians. They will be a team to watch at a minimum.
Can the Kumuls make it an even better year for PNG Rugby League
It has been a very good year for PNG rugby league fans. Their PNG Hunters secured the Intrust Super Cup premiership in Queensland, and despite a less successful showing in the NRL State Championship against Penrith, nothing can take away from those last few minutes at Suncorp Stadium.
The Hunters success has seen them well represented in the Kumuls national squad, and that season long experience together gives them a major advantage over most of the other World Cup nations. Very few outside of Australia, who have the combinations that the Kumuls will take into the tournament.
But after the way they were dismantled in the NRL State Championship they will welcome the extra quality coming from outside the team, espceially in the form of David Mead who is always excellent when representing his nation. Also there are a host of PNG players who are in the feeder teams for RL clubs in Queensland and New Zealand. All of whom has impressed, but not yet got their chance at the big time like Kato Ottio, Rod Griffin, Justin Olam.
And there’s always Grand Final hero Willie Minoga as a point of interest. Always.
Following the Hunters success, the calls to have them in the NRL were renewed, this 2017 Rugby League World Cup gives them the perfect stage to show their sporting capabilities, if not their commercial appeal.
Can the NRL Big Names lift their second country?
The beauty of this World Cup is that some of the big NRL names who missed out on selection in the big three can play for another nation if there is enough of a link, giving the World Cup lesser nations a better chance of impressing and allowing more of the best players in rugby league a chance to shine on the biggest international stage for the code. A few examples come to mind below.
James Tedesco is one of the hard luck stories from the Australian squad, somehow the Player’s player of the season couldn’t make it into the Kangaroos team, but their loss will be Italy’s gain. The NSW fullback will be a massive asset for the Italians, and platying alongside the in form Eel Nathan Brown, big Dragon Paul Vaughan, and the almost forgotten skills of Terry Campese, they look an outside chance of getting out of Pool D and into the knockout phase.
Robbie Farah and Mitchell Moses headline the Lebanon squad as the marquee NRL players, along with the man in charge Brad Fittler who could use the 2017 Rugby League World Cup as an audition for the Blues job in 2018. The rest of the squad come from around the Sydney clubs in NSW Cup and below, but their biggest handicap will be being in Pool A alongside England and Australia. Although, if they beat France, they are likely to go through to the next round. Beating France is not out of the question.
Frank Pritchard and Josh Papalii are the big names for Samoa, amongst a lot of NRL quality, but they appear to have been left behind by their rival Tonga of the non big three teams being led by NRL stars.
Getting to know the other minnows
The 2017 Rugby League World Cup is not all about NRL stars, it’s also a great opportunity to see some of the minnows with a completely unfamiliar squad.
Sides like Ireland, Scotland and Wales have called upon a lot of their squad from the English rugby league system, so unless you follow the English game intimately, these sides will be relatively unknown.
Even more obscure are some of the players named by nations like France and the USA, who have picked players out of their respective national competitions, giving their locally bred players a chance to shine. Indeed we are waiting to see what players from our favourite but previously unknown US club – the White Plains Wombats – offer at this World Cup.
NZ/England Under Pressure?
Will the natural hierarchy be given a shake up at this World Cup?
On paper, the Kiwis look as strong as ever despite the last minute loss of Jason Taumalolo, but are in the more difficult of the two major pools. They face the previous nominated dark horse Tonga , Samoa, and Scotland – a team with whom they drew with last year in England.
Coach David Kidwell has won just once of his 6 games in charge of the national side and will be the coacj under the most pressure coming into the tournament.
England have master coach Wayne Bennett at the helm for this World Cup, and the jury is still out on whether the relationship will end in tears or cheers. Sam Burgess headlines the NRL contingent in the English side, and there are plenty of stars from the English Super League in the side.
The question is away from home in the much hotter southern hemisphere conditions whether the predominantly northern hemisphere team will be able to keep up with their NRL counterparts.
With Tonga looking strong, and other Pacific Nations looking stronger than ever, the Kiwis and English sides will need to be at their best to avoid an early exit.
Can Jarryd Hayne end the year on a high?
It hasn’t been a great 2017 for Jarryd Hayne. At the heart of the end of season power struggle at the Titans which saw Neil Henry fired, and panned for his efforts for the Titans and NSW for the majority of the season, there wasn’t a great deal of value for his megabucks NRL deal.
Perhaps linking back with Fiji at this year’s World Cup will revitalise the former NFL and Fijian Rugby Sevens player. It will certainly help them progress as Pool D winners if he can be at his best. If he’s not at his best and puts in a few Titans-like performances for Fiji, it will add another disappointing chapter to his 2017 season before it closes.
Any Potential 1st Round Upsets?
It is hard to see too many upsets in the first stage of the World Cup, but below are a few of the games which could see the underdog triumph.
Tonga to beat New Zealand – Can the Tongans put early pressure on the Kiwis in the first match of Pool B?
Lebanon to beat France – Lebanon have two NRL stars alongside a lot of Sydney based players, France is picked exclusively from the northern hemisphere.
Games to Watch
Australia v England – the 2017 Rugby League World Cup opener.
PNG v Wales – first game in PNG in front of a sell out 15,000 passionate rugby league fans.
New Zealand v Tonga – looks like the battle for top of Pool B.
Tonga v Samoa – worth watching for the pre game rituals alone.
Italy v USA – two genuine minnows going for it.
New Zealand v Scotland – this game ended in a draw last year, can Scotland go one better?
Players to Watch
Tom Trbojevic (Australia) – ready to break into the International scene.
Jason Taumalolo / Andrew Fifita (Tonga) – will the hyped switch be worth it?
Ase Boas – PNG – the player of the year in the Intrust Super and Best on Ground in Grand Final.
Willie Minoga (PNG) – the Grand Final hero and man they call Freight Train is ready to make an impact on the international scene.
Jarryd Hayne (Fiji) – can he get something out of 2017?
Shaun Johnson (NZ) – can he lead NZ national side to glory after a disappointing injury plagued 2017.
Joey Leilua/Josh Papalii (Samoa) – both Samoan Canberra Raiders players had 2017 that weren’t as good as 2016, can they turn that around for Samoa?
Nathan Brown (Italy) – one of Parramatta’s best all year gets a chance on the international stage at this year’s World Cup.