Following an entertaining first 3 weeks of action, the superior teams have progressed to the next round of fixtures. There are no surprises to the teams that will feature this week, aside from Tonga finishing at the top of their group following an upset win over New Zealand last week. Despite several one-sided matches, the quality overall was quite high and each team competing can be proud of what they produced. Now, the intensity of matches will be increased lifted to another level, as a loss spells the end of the campaign for each team and a spot in the semi-finals ahead for the victor.
Australia v Samoa
Australia did what was required of them in their 34-nil win over Lebanon last week; they appeared to be in control from the start of the contest. Their opponents did a great job of competing in the ruck and slowing down the momentum of their opponents and the Kangaroos will no doubt be pleased with the strength of opposition leading into more important games. In a sign for improvement, the Kangaroos only completed at 69%, with 15 errors halting their momentum at various stages. The fact that they only missed 10 tackles demonstrated that their defensive structure is stronger than ever, only conceding 10-points in three matches. The rotation of players in the squad has ceased with more to play for, with the same 17 that took the field against England (aside from Reagan Campbell-Gillard replacing the injured Jake Trbojevic) coming back together. The strength and performance of Samoa has been underwhelming to say the least, they have been comprehensively beaten by NZ and Tonga, only progress to this week courtesy of a 14-all draw with minnows Scotland. They drastically require a reversal in execution if they are to be considered a chance of disrupting the momentum of their opponents. The task of them winning this game appears beyond them, as the Kangaroos will give minimal attacking opportunities to their opponents and they will be prepared to defend their line with enthusiasm. The only impacting factor that could change the course of this match (minimally), is the weather in Darwin. Conditions are expected to be hot and humid, although, the Kangaroos appear better suited to these conditions with their fitness levels compared to that of a tired team that has battled to reach this point. Teams always lift when they play the best in the league but that aside, Samoa are out of their depth and should find it difficult to limit the scoring opportunities of their opponents.
Kangaroos -32.5 @ $1.90
Homecoming King = Will Chambers FTS and/or LTS @ $10 – Chambers isn’t a noted try scorer, only crossing the line 7 times this year for the Storm. That doesn’t mean that he is crucial to the success of his team and being the only player in the team from the NT, he will relish the moment to perform in front of his friends and family.
Tonga v Lebanon
Tonga sent shockwaves through the international rugby league world last week with their 28-22 win over New Zealand in Waikato. It wasn’t just the result that mattered, it was the fact that they were able to overcome a 16-2 HT deficit to prevail. Furthermore, they completed at 86% and made just 8 errors, outclassing the Kiwis in both areas and playing with poise when it mattered most. The scenes of jubilation and excitement following the result mirrored that of them winning the entire competition and they can ill-afford to be caught up in last weeks result ahead of this important match. The result means that they also move to the opposite side of the draw to Australia and are a genuine chance of making the Final. First, they must overcome Lebanon, a team who has played proudly in all of their matches. Their first up with over France meant that they progressed to this fixture, despite defeats of 29-10 against England and 34-nil last week against Australia. Much like Tonga, they were controlled in their play, yet went without reward; they completed at 83% for the match, made 7 total errors and missed 25 tackles. The difference in the end was that they were unable to halt the scoring opportunities of the Kangaroos nor the speed and intensity they played at over 80 minutes. Nevertheless, they displayed a strong control of the ruck, slowing the play at every possible opportunity. This will be as important against Tonga, a team that has a bigger set of forwards than the Australians and a side that will want to dominate the middle through power. If they can replicate such an effort, Tonga may not have things all their own way. They are a team that still needs to improve in a few areas; most notably letting the Kiwis lead by 14-points and missing 39 tackles over the course of the match. Tonga will still head into this game as favorites, with many believing that last week was only just the beginning for the island nation; that result is bound to increase the confidence within their entire squad and it will come down to whether or not they are able to withhold the tactics of Lebanon and play with patience when given opportunities. This game will be a lot closer than the odds are suggesting (Lebanon approx. $21), with Tonga made to work hard for the result.
Lebanon +28.5 @ $1.90
New Zealand v Fiji
New Zealand were on the receiving end of a passionate ambush at the hands of Tonga last week, conceding a 16-2 HT lead to lose 28-22. As expected, the contest intense, with the experience of the Kiwis allowing them to dominate early. As can be the case, they failed to match the composure and intensity in the second half and were made to pay for their mistakes; they completed at just 68% with 47% share of possession, while making 14 total errors. This allowed their opponents several more opportunities to build pressure and snatch victory. It will be a learning curve that New Zealand will hold for a few more weeks yet; providing they win this game, they still face the difficult task of beating Australia to make the Final. They will focus on securing this result first, with no assurances made after last week, as well as the form of their opponents. Fiji have had a fairly easy tournament to date, facing the likes of USA, Italy and Wales in their 3 matches; nevertheless, they have won all 3 with force, amassing 168 points and conceding just 28 in the process. Last weeks 38-10 win over Italy was pleasing, in what was their most difficult task. The attacking flair is evident in their play; it’s a matter of sustaining consistent pressure, especially at the end of attacking sets and maintaining a strong defensive line. The Kiwis are expected to bounce back from a poor performance last week and will be wary of the potential within the Fiji team. They need to limit the mistakes they are making and halt the attacking momentum their opponents generate. The quality within both sides suggests that New Zealand have what it takes to win this match; when the initial intensity of this contest subsides, the Kiwis have a stronger bench to call upon. With a more “established” spine within their team and ability to attack just as dangerously as their opponents, this game is theirs to lose. As for the margin, Fiji should look to keep things tight. History suggests that New Zealand will run away with this game, yet this World Cup has produce some special and bizarre performances thus far and previous experiences do not necessarily count for much if the team performs differently on the day.
Fiji +14.5 @ $1.90
England v PNG
This tournament has been a fantastic one to date for PNG; they have played every match on home soil and are undefeated against Ireland, USA and Wales. They have been impressive, executing as a superior team should against lesser opponents and benefitted from an amazing home ground atmosphere. As they move away from familiar territory, the difficulty of the tournament increases inherently, playing against a team they are yet to beat (England have won the previous 2 matches). PNG are not without hope, they need to build pressure much like they have in their first 3 matches and maintain a strong defensive structure. England have been progressing positively since their opening round loss to the Kangaroos. They demonstrated a sturdy resolve in that game and sent a message to the rest of the competition that they are only going to get better as a team; this is no more evident than their average 76% completion rate, even when winning strongly. In contrast, despite dominating their opponents, PNG only average a 66% completion rate. Sam Burgess returns to strengthen the English forwards, while Gareth Widdop stays at fullback; this is viewed as a move to improve the attacking options for England and it has appeared to work well in recent weeks. They will be up for the challenge and providing they can manage the physicality of PNG, England should be victorious. That being said, the days of tier one teams dominating the likes of PNG are numbered and as the depth of their squad improves, so too does their execution and this game will be a lot closer than most are expecting.
PNG +16.5 @ $1.95