OPINION COLUMN: Lebanon have been a breath of fresh air and Fiji are real contenders

(Image credit - RLWC2017.com / NRL Imagery)

Lebanon should gain a lot of respect from their World Cup campaign while Fiji have enough talent to go all of the way.

Ahead of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup starting, looking at Group A, a lot of people thought Lebanon would be the whipping boys, but they were quite the opposite.

They kicked off their tournament with a great win over France, coming from behind to snatch the two points thanks to a Mitchell Moses masterclass.

In Round 2, they ran England close as they fell short 29-10 but the Cedars didn’t gain a lot of recognition from the result, especially from British fans because they decided to criticise England rather than the good performance that Lebanon put in. Forward Alex Twal was phenomenal l for them that game.

And in the final game of the group stage, they were beaten 34-0 by tournament favourites Australia. If you had watched the game in full, the scoreline didn’t really do the Cedars justice because they really challenged and matched the Kangaroos in parts of the game.

But Samoa seem to have a lot of admiration but they were beaten by Australia 46-0 in Friday’s quarter-final, so when you think of the Lebanon score, Brad Fittler’s Cedars did pretty well, considering they are a team of mainly part-time players.

They finished third in Group A and secured a place in the quarter-finals, where they met the highly-hyped Tonga outfit.

Not many were expecting the Cedars to challenge the Mate Ma’a as much as they did but boy, what a game it was. The spine of Anthony Layoun, Moses, Robbie Farah and Michael Lichaa were outstanding and the game looked like Lebanon could have snatched it in the latter stages but Tonga were clinical on the day, narrowly winning 24-22 in what was a thriller.

Lebanon played in their first World Cup since 2000 and did their country and all of their people proud. It was great to see them do well in the tournament. I’m not sure about others, but I for one, will hold the Cedars in high regard.

And that brings me onto Fiji, who I have been impressed with more than any other team in the World Cup so far.

The Bati have gone very much under the radar in the tournament because the likes of the other Tier Two nations, Tonga and Papua New Guinea, making the headlines. Don’t get me wrong, both Tonga and PNG have been pure class as well.

Mick Potter has done a fantastic job since taking over the coaching reigns with Fiji in 2016. They thrashed the USA 58-12 in the opening weekend, battered Wales 72-6 in Round 2 and eased past Italy 38-10 in Round 3.

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I said in my five things we learned from Round Two feature a couple of weeks ago that Fiji should be talked about in the same regard as Tonga and Saturday’s game proved that I was right as they become the second Tier Two nation to beat Tier One giants New Zealand in as many weeks.

They face Australia in the semi-final next weekend but what is stopping them from beating another Tier One side? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Fiji have scored more points than any other team in the World Cup so far, with 172 compared to Australia in second with 150 to their name.

The Bati have, arguably, the best winger in the world in Suliasi Vunivalu. The 21-year-old has been sensational in the NRL since making his debut for Melbourne Storm in 2016. He has scored 46 tries in 47 appearances for the club.

And he is currently at the top of the try-scoring charts at the World Cup, with eight in four games. Not bad going, eh?

A lot of people will probably be quick to slam me down for saying the Bati have a chance against the Kangaroos but I genuinely believe they can.

As an Englishman, I would love nothing more England to be in the Final and lift the trophy.

But if the Three Lions failed to beat Tonga, just image a Tier Two Rugby League World Cup Final between Fiji and Tonga?

Okay, I’m getting a tad ahead of myself here, but you get the drift.

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