There are just 4 teams remaining at this late stage of the competition, with a few surprises in the fixtures that are taking place. Regardless, the quality of rugby league has been high throughout the tournament and it is only going to get better at this point, with all 4 countries keen to feature in the Finals.
Australia v Fiji
Australia have cruised through the tournament thus far, making light work of majority of their opponents and only really pushed by England in the opening match. Their Quarter Final match last week in Darwin was a one-sided contest, with the class of the Kangaroos superior in dismantling Samoa 46-nil. They enjoyed 56% of possession and completed at 83%, with 9 errors and 19 missed tackles the only limiting factor on their performance. This has been the theme for Australia throughout the tournament, playing to a level that their opponents were unable to match and allowing their speed in execution to push past opponents. While it has looked easy, the Kangaroos high standard of execution has allowed for such dominating victories and the odds ahead of this game suggests that the trend could continue. Fiji have ended here by dominating their early matches against Tier 2 nations, then ambushed New Zealand last week in an emotional encounter. In a scoreless encounter, Fiji prevailed 4-2 as their defence held strong when it mattered most. They held 53% possession and executed at 70%, leading to 13 errors that their opponents were unable to capitalise on. The win for them reads very well on paper but the truth is that the Kiwis are only a shade of the team that once beat Australia in the Final. Nevertheless, Fiji executed to a point that disrupted the momentum of their opponents and they will want to achieve the same thing here. History is not on their side however, the previous two times they have faced the Kangaroos in a semi-final of the RLWC (2008, 20013), they were comprehensively beaten on both occasions. No doubt the level of confidence from last week’s effort will be needed as an improvement in some areas of their execution.
Australia = Unchanged.
Fiji = Unchanged.
Overall = Australia 5 Fiji 0
Fiji have done very well to get to this point and they are going to have to lift to another level if they are to upset the best team in the world. Despite being undefeated, the class of opponent they have faced is nothing to what they will come up against here for 80 minutes. If they are to cause an upset, they can begin by trying to dominate the ruck and the speed at which the Kangaroos play at; Lebanon did a great job of this when they played Australia and despite losing 34-nil, made their opponents work hard for victory. Fiji have bigger players in the middle, yet it will require more energy and their fitness will need to be up for the challenge also. Their defence is a cause for concern too, they missed 36 tackles last week and throughout the tournament, are yet to be made to pay for their mistakes. A team with the quality of the Kangaroos will know how to capitalise on this and the pressure they create will be relentless over 80 minutes. The only concern for Australia is how much of an effect last week will have on them; conditions were very hot and humid in Darwin and much of the preparation ahead of this match will have been focussed on recovery. Thankfully, they have 7-days to prepare for this game but fatigue is bound to contribute at some stage; how the Kangaroos manage this will be crucial and it may mean they reduce the intensity once they jump out to a comfortable lead. However, with an overall score line of 282-10 in their 5 previous meetings, you cannot help but think that this match is set to be a blowout. There is little doubt that the Australian’s will win this match and perform strongly; it appears as though this Kangaroos team has a distinct level of difference that allows them to perform to a high standard regardless of the quality of their opponent. They will be wary that they need a strong performance to reinforce their confidence ahead of next week and despite growing fatigue levels, that may just be enough for them to just cover the line.
Kangaroos -24.5 @ $1.85
Strong start = Kangaroos 9+ at HT @ $1.50 – This is an option not usually recommended but given how dangerous the Kangaroos have been throughout the tournament, there is no doubt that they will want to start strong and lower the intensity once they are at a comfortable margin.
Taking it to the house = Valentine Holmes FTS and/or LTS @ $7 – Holmes scored 5 tries last week and reinforced how dangerous the left edge is for Australia. Josh Dugan ($10) is also worth some thought but Holmes is proving to be a favourite attacking option for playmakers either on the ground or through the air.
Tonga v England
This is the more anticipated match of the semi-final fixtures and rightly so given the journey Tonga have been on to get to this stage. They were not expected to be here but after upsetting New Zealand in the group stages and narrowly overcoming a spirited Lebanon team, they find themselves on the cusp of a berth in the Final. First, they need to overcome England, a team that has improved with each match and were strong against PNG last week. It wasn’t all roses in that match though, England will be disappointed with their 57% completion rate and 19 errors meaning their defensive structure was continually tested; this was the case in their opening match against the Kangaroos and just like that contest, they held strong. Their attack experience little issue, playing strongly and making the most of positive field position. Tonga played the opposite of England last week, completing at 81% and committing just 8 errors to cruise home to victory after a strong first half performance. The fact that Tonga were not able to put away Lebanon once they jumped to a 22-12 lead is not a reflection of their poor execution, but rather a test to how well their opponents performed. England will be wary that this Tonga team is different to what they have faced before and despite being victorious in their previous two meetings, they will need a complete 80-minute performance if they are to outlast their opponents. Tonga have made a loud statement thus far that they are a team that is to be taken seriously and with that in mind, the possibility of them causing an upset in this match is much more of a reality than it has been in the past. The result of this game could have the enormity to change the landscape of international rugby league and Tonga have already done that once this tournament and will not be afraid to repeat their achievements.
Tonga = Sio Siua Taukeiaho returns to the front row, pushing Joe Ofahengaue back to the reserves.
England = Unchanged.
Overall = Tonga 0 England 2
England are obvious favourites for this game but based on the execution of each team in their previous match, Tonga have to come into consideration. That being said, England accounted for Lebanon 29-10 in their Week 2 fixture, whereas Tonga struggled to some extent last week; it must also be noted that Lebanon would’ve increased the intensity of their execution and preparation given the enormity of a semi-final match. Here, England are expected to lift the intensity yet again and it is uncertain whether or not Tonga can match their opponents. As spirited as they have been throughout the tournament, Tonga are yet to face a team with the quality that England has; New Zealand was expected to be a tough test for them, although the value of their playing squad has since come under scrutiny. Tonga will need to take the contest to England in the middle of the field, an area of strength with the inclusion of Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita to their team. In theory, this would have a flow on affect to the halves and outside backs, reducing the quality possession they have and the speed of play. England have the right players to combat this in the middle; the likes of Sam Burgess, James Graham and Elliott Whitehead offer the power to combat Tonga here and having the quality of Josh Hodgson at hooker gives England an advantage in attack and defence. The execution of Tonga in regard to their completion rate and defensive structure has been positive and if emulated, will be a major base for establishing a winning position. England can ill-afford to make the same amount of errors they have in previous weeks; had PNG had more consistency, they would’ve made their opponents pay for the mistakes they made. England should win this contest but a win from Tonga wouldn’t shock and the margin could very well be a lot closer than most are expecting.
England 1-12 @ $2.90