Crowds roaring, players grunting, punches and kicks liberally given and rough tosses are at the order of the day. This is the Rugby League World Cup, where things are seriously heating up now that week 2 has ended.
We already have something of a vague picture of who will be battling it out in the quarterfinal stages – but don’t be too surprised if things don’t turn out the way predicted though. A number of teams are really giving pundits a run for their money, both literally and metaphorically. They are the element of surprise this sport needed to woo the crowds once more.
Despite the many unanticipated twists this year, we have seen patterns and trends occurring over the past 2 weeks. Most of these revolve around the fact that a number of Tier 2 teams are really making a name for themselves.
Tier 1 and Tier 2 – where lines blur and sharpen
Teams are divided in Tier 1 and 2 for a reason – they determine which teams are the top performing ones and which fall short of achieving that ‘great’ status. However, as we’ve seen during week 1 and 2 of the World Cup this is not always as sharply delineated.
Sure, Australia and New Zealand have won almost every game with a large gap in terms of score, as seen by last Saturday’s 74 – 6 score between NZL and Scotland but we also have a list of serious contenders. We expect the RLIF rankings in fact, to reflect differently after this World Cup, partly due to the outstanding display of some of these “lesser” teams…
England disappoints in last game with Lebanon
They might have won with a 29 – 10 score, but England’s performance suffered significantly. They face France next, an all but assured win. Despite this confidence, there is a feeling of disappointment which clouds the victory and puts a damper on celebrations.
Wayne Bennett, coach of the national team, points out a good first half, with good ball possession – but a weak second half. Captain Sean O’Loughlin agrees, “We didn’t finish off the game the way we wanted to.”
Kudos to the Cedars who, instead of retreating back as people were expecting them to do, they pursued the ball aggressively and were rewarded with a narrow score margin. Lebanon in fact, played better than in the first round where they won against France, a resounding achievement for the team.
No one should doubt that England deserved this win against Lebanon, but they will need to up their game as they enter the Knockout stages of the World Cup. Lebanon on the other hand: we hope to see more of this budding team in tournaments to come.
Ireland surprise in the first round – deflate in the second
Ireland’s win against Italy really threw spectators back against their seats. In the 2013 World Cup, Ireland suffered greatly, which is why they were not favourites with rugby league bookmakers to win against the stronger side, Italy.
Needless to say, a large number of people lost a lot of money on their bets – while a lucky few made away with a small fortune. If fans were looking to have a repeat the following week, they were in for something of a let-down. Ireland lost against Papa New Guinea and although they kept the margin low, they made too many errors. With PNG having won both games and expected to win the next one, it will take nothing but a miracle to see Ireland through. On the other side of the Tier 2 coin…
Rising starts: Tonga, Papa New Guinea, Samoa, Fiji
If you’ve watched Tongs vs Samoa last Saturday, you know what we’re talking about. It was a clear definition of what these teams are achieving and how far they’ve progressed in the last few years. The intensity of the game was real, and we’re seeing how, game after game, these teams are setting a whole new bar to reach.
This is due partly to the fact that more professional players are playing for the NRL. We’re seeing Fiji trashing their two adversaries, with a 58 – 12 win over the USA in the first round and 72 – 6 against Wales last week. PNG have had similar wide-margin results. The discrepancy between these four teams and the rest of Tier 2 has become more apparent.
Reaching this level is not going to be an easy feat for teams like Scotland, Wales and Lebanon, who are already struggling as is.
With the US focusing on player development for long-term gains and France struggling to get players to play in more reputable leagues, it is a tough call for all of them to make. Despite all this, it feels like a breath of fresh air to see teams in Tier 2 giving this kind of show.
There was speculation early on that rugby league has become too predictable to be enjoyable anymore. With the Brits, the Kangaroos and the Kiwis always in the lead – looking down over the other teams – stoic viewers were referring to the sport as something “irrelevant”.
With the laxer laws governing players’ rights to join different national teams according to ancestral lines, the sport is currently undergoing changes that can only strengthen it. More players are infiltrating super leagues, upping levels and bringing quality to every match.
While Tier 1 teams keep on dominating the games thus far, Tier 2 games are only getting better with every passing year. We predict that it will not be long before we have a different idea of what should comprise Tier 1 teams.
Our Predictions: We see the following teams to the Quarter finals: Australia, England, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Lebanon, Papa New Guinea and Fiji. These rest on a number of assumptions so let’s just say it’s the safest, natural course this World Cup seems to be taking.
From hardy men wearing traditional skirts and dresses, to beautiful pre-match hymns, to locker room shenanigans, this World Cup delivers emotions both on and off the pitch. The tenth of November will find us back on our seats in front of the screen to see exactly how the third week will kick off. We are sure to witness more of the same: spectacular sportsmanship, a thrilling race and surprises at every turn.