RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD CUP
AUSTRALIA v SAMOA
Samoa have absolutely crawled into this quarter-final and certainly do not deserve to be there after two losses and one draw to Scotland, a side that was absolutely thrashed by both Tonga and New Zealand.
The Australians have hardly set the tournament alight but are the reigning world champions and clearly have the best all round squad in the tournament. I certainly get the feeling that they have been pacing themselves for the knockout stages and the fact they have named their strongest 17 for this match suggests so.
This is going to be all one way traffic as Australia finally flex their muscles against a rather disjointed and oftentimes disinterested looking Samoan side. Take the Australians to cover the large start and to send a reminder to the other sides in the competition as to why they are such short priced favourites to win this competition. Pick - 4 units on Australia -32.5 point start
Tonga v Lebanon
The Tongan juggernaut continued last week with the big upset win over the Kiwis where they showed a heap of heart to come back from a 16-2 halftime deficit to run out eventual 22-28 winners. Meanwhile the Lebanese side have been impressive in backing up their round one victory over France with two gritty losing efforts to England and Australia, easily coming within the points line on offer on each occasion.
The stars in the Lebanese side have a lot of nous and it’s suited the side well having the two best players in the side – Farah and Moses – in the halves where they’ve been handling the ball more than any other players and have controlled the attack brilliantly. The lesser known players in the side have also stepped up and shown plenty of pride in the jumper, the question is whether they can replicate the passion away from Australia and their large fan base.
I don’t think the big Tongan pack will intimidate the Lebanese who have handled themselves very well against the large packs of England and Australia, with a well-set defensive line and urgency in everything they do which shouldn’t drop off here.
The start on offer to the Lebanese is sitting at around 28 points which is worth backing as they’ve certainly shown enough to suggest they’ll be right into this game; also the Tongans are coming off their biggest victory in the nation’s history so preparations for this match will have almost certainly be disrupted with all the fanfare and celebrations. Pick – 4 units on Lebanon +27.5 point start
NZ v Fiji
‘The ‘KEY’ is in the ‘WE’ were the words out of NZ coach David Kidwell’s mouth pre-world cup as the critics circled (Ki-wi …. Get it?), they managed to silence those critics after two rounds of easy footy but were made to look foolish last week after blowing all their steam in the pre-match haka and losing to a hungrier Tongan side.
There’ll be plenty of nervous people in the Kiwi camp going into this clash as the Fijians have looked very impressive, making a fairly strong Italian team look average last week in beating them 38-10. It would be an absolute disaster for rugby league in NZ if the kiwi’s lost here, especially off the back of a pathetically poor Warriors NRL season, and I think they’ll have enough motivation to ensure they get the job done as they don’t lack the player talent.
The Kiwi’s forward pack is full of hardened NRL players who will fire up and have it over the Fijian pack which is essentially the game won as the Kiwis backline will be too clinical with the good ball they receive. The Fijian defence hasn’t been properly tested yet and I can see them opening up under the blowtorch of what will be a Kiwi side determined to bury the shame of last week – take the Kiwis to cover the start and put in a complete 80-minute effort. Pick - 4 units on NZ -14.5 point start
PNG v England
England have had a fairly quiet campaign thus far with an opening round loss to the Kangaroos followed up by two solid yet unspectacular wins over Lebanon and France.
With England you really know what you’re going to get as they’re well coached under Wayne Bennett but lack the individual flair the Southern Hemisphere players boast and it’s that unknown element to PNG’s play that will have the England side on high alert.
PNG have cruised through the first three rounds with mammoth wins over Wales and USA, as well as a close one against Ireland and whilst their attack has been scintillating it’s their defence that has really impressed, conceding just 12 points in the three games.
The unknown factor here is whether PNG can maintain their focus and intensity playing away from Port Moresby; if PNG do manage to carry the momentum they’ve built up into this clash then there’s a decent chance of an upset here.
England will be solid and should ground out the win but the PNG side have plenty of talent and heart which as we’ve seen already in this RLWC goes a long way and I’m happy to back the Kumal’s to make this close! Pick - 3 units on PNG +17.5 or better point start