The 2017 Rugby League World Cup starts this weekend and there are plenty of talking points ahead of the big kick-off.
It is the first round of the World Cup this weekend, with the opening game being Australia against England at the Rectangular Stadium in Melbourne.
THE ENGLAND PACK AGAINST AUSTRALIA
If you look at each forward pack of every team at the World Cup this year, there isn’t, arguably, a stronger and better pack than what England have. Three Lions coach Wayne Bennett has named Chris Hill, James Graham, Sam Burgess, Elliott Whitehead and Sean O’Loughlin in his starting pack. How good is that?
And on the bench is Super League’s top-metre maker Alex Walmsley, Cronulla star Chris Heighington and Tom Burgess, who has been in the England set up for a number of years now. Josh Hodgson and James Roby are the hookers so it will certainly be interesting to see how England match up against the likes of Aaron Woods, Matt Hillett, Wade Graham and Jake Trbojevic.
WILL NEW ZEALAND PROVE DOUBTERS WRONG?
A lot of people have been talking about Tonga this year challenging for the World Cup trophy with Australia and England rather than New Zealand ever since Jason Taumalolo switched his allegiance from the Kiwis to Mate Ma’a Tonga. The Kiwis play Samoa on Saturday and it is going to be a huge test.
But Kiwis head coach David Kidwell has still named a very strong squad and is probably better than Tonga’s on paper, with the likes of Shaun Johnson, Peta Hiku, Tommy Leuluai, Simon Mannering, Kodi Nikorima, Jordan Rapana, Jared Warea-Hargreaves and Roger Tuivasa-Scheck involved so they can still go all the way and surprise a few doubters by making the final or even winning the competition, starting with a clash with Samoa.
THE ATMOSPHERE AT PORT MORESBY
It is no secret that Rugby League is the national sport in Papua New Guinea and it is absolutely brilliant for the sport that the Kumuls’ opening fixture at the World Cup against Wales at Port Moresby has sold out. It will make great viewing on Premier Sports that nearly 25,000 supporters will be at the game.
PNG have a very impressive team as well in the World Cup and could surprise a lot of people in the tournament. We are not saying they’ll win it, but they have the ability to get the quarter-finals with the likes of Paul Aiton and James Segeyaro leading the side while Wales will want to cause an upset in Port Moresby and they also have a lot of talent in the side and there is no doubt the Papua New Guineans will love watching Regan Grace play.
WILL TONGA BE THE REAL DEAL?
Along with Wayne Bennett’s 24-man England squad selection, Tonga’s squad has certainly been the main talking point ahead of the World Cup starting. It’s a well-known fact that Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita switched allegiances to Tonga from New Zealand and Australia respectively and they are just two of the big names to make the switch to a Tier 2 nation.
But having a great team is one thing and winning games is another. They failed to get out of the groups back in 2013 following a loss to Scotland but they do have a stronger team this year so most people are expecting them to get through to the quarter-finals and give it a good go this time around with players such as Mahe Fonua, Sika Manu, Manu Vatuvei and Ben Murdoch-Masila involved.
FAGES AND FRANCE
St Helens star Theo Fages has become the poster boy for Rugby League in France in recent years and he has deserved to be in that position because he is great player to watch and is a reason why so many Saints fans pay £20 for a match ticket. There are reports that five NRL clubs are interested in the half-back and there isn’t any reason why he can’t go over to Australia and nail it. How could would it be for French rugby if he could become a star player in the NRL?
Moving away from the France captain, Aurelien Cologni’s side is pretty strong and the likes of Australia and England shouldn’t underestimate them. There are a lot of Catalans Dragons players included in the squad such as Lucas Albert, Jason Baitieri and Fouad Yaha but there are also a few Toulouse Olympique players involved which is great to see. Mark Kheirallah is definitely a one to watch in the tournament and they are a tight knit group.
What are the things you are most looking forward to in Round 1 of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup? Let us know in the comments below.