The wait is nearly over for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup to start and the tournament is setting up to be the most competitive in a while.
Australia, England, France, Lebanon.
Australia and England are the two clear favourites out of group A to progress to the quarter-finals but people shouldn’t underestimate France, who have a strong contingent of Catalans players along with St Helens star Theo Fages so they could progress through as well. France seem to do quite well in World Cups as well, with them making the quarter-finals back in 2013.
And for Lebanon, it is their first World Cup since 2000 so they will be raring to go and they have got NRL stars Robbie Farah and Mitchell Moses operating from the halves so that could be a dangerous combination.
England look the strongest they have been in years and will be determined to go one better this time and reach the final because a late Shaun Johnson try knocked them out of the semi-finals in 2013.
Australia are the team to beat, having won the 2013 tournament and boasting a team full of top NRL talent. They beat New Zealand 34-2 in the final at Old Trafford in 2013 and will want to go out on another high, with captain Cameron Smith and Billy Slater playing their last World Cups.
New Zealand, Scotland, Samoa, Tonga.
Group B looks very tough and it’s a cliché saying, but many are calling it the group of death. New Zealand and Tonga are slight favourites to finish in the top two but there are going to be some entertaining games in this group – there’s no doubt about that.
The Kiwis have a weakened team this year with a couple of players opting to play for Tier 2 nations but it’s still strong on paper with the likes of Jordan Rapana, Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Adam Blair all involved.
Scotland are currently fourth in the world rankings behind Australia, New Zealand and England. They have been overlooked in nearly every tournament they’ve played in and have proved many doubters wrong. Steve McCormack’s side have been unfortunate with injuries this year but still look pretty good.
Samoa are well-known for being a big side and they look to be the same again in the World Cup, having Josh Papalii, Joseph Paulo, Junior Paulo, Frank Pritchard and Sam Tagataese in the squad. They will want to do better in this tournament after going out at the quarter-final stage last time.
Tonga’s team this year has certainly made the headlines this year, with Jason Taumalolo and Andre Fifita among the big names to switch allegiance from New Zealand and Australia respectively. They failed to get out of the group stages last time and with the squad they have got, it will be disappointing if they don’t manage to make the quarter-finals this time.
Who knows who will finish in the top three in Group B…
Papua New Guinea, Ireland, Wales.
There are three times in both Group C and Group D so each team will play another in the other group once so all teams would have played three games by the end of the group stages and only one team progresses to the quarter-finals from each group.
Group C is very tight though with all three squads being pretty good. Papua New Guinea are the favourites to go through though because they play all three of their group games in their own country and Port Moresby is a very tricky place to go for opposition. James Segeyaro and Paul Aiton are among the stars for the Kumuls.
Ireland are the team most expecting to challenge PNG in the group, having named a team full of Super League experience, especially in the forwards. Liam Finn has 24 caps for the Wolfhounds and will captain the side which features Micky McIlorum, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Kyle Amor and Brad Singleton.
Like Scotland, Wales have been hit hard by injuries this time around but their squad is still decent. The Dragons will be led by the ever-reliable Craig Kopczak and it will feature highly-rated young St Helens trio Morgan Knowles, Ben Morris and Regan Grace. Grandson of Wales Rugby League legend Colin Dixon, Chester Butler, has also been named in the squad.
Fiji, USA, Italy.
Fiji are expected to progress to the quarter-finals, due to the fact they have got 18 NRL players included in Mick Potter’s squad, including a certain Jarryd Hayne. They have a fantastic World Cup in 2013 and were knocked-out in the semis by eventual winners Australia.
The USA Hawks have named a team largely consisting of American-born players which can only be great for the game in the long run, with players coming from the likes of White Plains Wombats, Philadelphia Fight, Wentworthville Magpies, Delaware Black Foxes, Atlanta Rhinos, New York Knights and Tampa Mayhem. They reached the quarter-finals in 2013 and they will probably snatch your hand off if you offered it to them again this year.
Mark Minichiello will lead Italy at the World Cup and the Azzurri have NRL sensation, James Tedesco, at full-back. He is a match-winner and unlucky not to be included in the Kangeroos squad while Italy Rugby Union star Mirco Bergamasco is also involved. They appeared in the 2013 World Cup for the first time but only managed to pick up a point so they will want to better that this month.
We will run the quarter-finals in our preview from the bookies favourites in the groups and expectations of where teams will finish in the group stages.
A1 v B3
Australia would meet Samoa in Darwin.
B2 v D1
Tonga would face Fiji in Christchurch.
B1 v A3
New Zealand would take on France in Wellington.
A2 v C1
England would meet Papua New Guinea in Melbourne.
A1/B3 v B2/D1
Australia/Samoa would face Tonga/Fiji in Brisbane.
B1/A3 v A2/C1
New Zealand/France would play England/Papua New Guinea in Auckland.
Australia/Samoa/Tonga/Fiji v New Zealand/France/England/Papua New Guinea @ Brisbane Stadium.
How do you see the 2017 Rugby League World Cup going? Who will get out of the groups? Let us know in the comments below.