Australia ($1.13) v England ($6.00)
The Kangaroos are strong favorites for this game and to take out the competition overall, rightly so given the strength of their squad and level of experience. Despite being the defending Champions, the scares are still evident from when they lost the tournament when hosting back in 2008. They are gearing up for a strong campaign and face potential finalists, England, in their opening match. The Poms have undergone a few changes ahead of this tournament and now find themselves under the guide of Wayne Bennett. It has been 22 years since England last beat Australia and the odds suggest this streak is set to continue. The strength of England is high and perhaps the odds are not a true reflection of the match, rather the opinion that the Kangaroos are far superior to any other team competing. They boast some key NRL players in Sam Burgess, James Graham, Josh Hodgson, Elliott Whitehead and Gareth Widdop, who are well supported by a strong contingent of Super League players that includes Man of Steel winner, Luke Gale. The Kangaroos are without key players like Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis and Jonathan Thurston just to name a few, yet have a new set of players willing to step up and make their mark on the international stage. Strategically, they still have Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk calling the shots, while Michael Morgan starts at 5/8 and is bound to extend his stellar from that carried the Cowboys to the Grand Final. England are expected to come out early and play with passion and fire, taking the match to their opponents in the forwards; the Kangaroos have size on their side in this area and will attempt to disrupt the defensive structure of their opponents with second-phase play created through off-loads. If the visitors can maintain their intensity for 80 minutes, they will push the Kangaroos to produce something special for victory. The home side can be excused for taking a while to hit their peak, yet the renewed focus under Mal Meniga suggests that with pride back in the Kangaroos jersey, they are going to make a statement in this match.
Kangaroos -16.5 @ $2
Reppin’ on debut = Dane Gagai FTS and/or LTS @ $8 – Gagai was Man of the Series in Origin this year, the match where the best Australian players are showcased. He couldn’t replicate this at club level and the missing factor is the quality around him. With this returning, expect Gagai to be in every possible attacking movement.
PNG ($1.12) v Wales ($6.25)
The special circumstances surrounding this match is that the opening match for PNG will be played at their national stadium; combine this with a country that has rugby league as their national sport (the only one in the world) and the atmosphere for this game is going to be electric. The hosts head into this contest as strong favorites and will want to reward their loyal fans with a win, something that is important for them if they are to progress beyond the group stage by means of winning Pool C. They have a strong squad, with most of their players coming out of the winning QLD Intrust Cup Premiership team and NRL players added into the team. Wales look out of their depth, but the patience of PNG in positive attacking position will be crucial to the outcome of this match. If they can gather enough momentum in this area, they will have the defensive structure of a team that is capable of holding out opponents. The conditions, on top of the atmosphere in this game, will make it increasingly difficult for Wales and you can be sure that the Kumul’s will be as bruising as ever in defence. Selecting them to win by 13+ ($1.48) appears to be a safer option but if you want to add more value than consider a victory by 20+ points.
PNG -19.5 @ $1.90
New Zealand ($1.20) v Samoa ($4.50)
The Kiwis have had a controversial lead in to the tournament with the highly publicised withdrawal of Jason Taumalolo; this came on the back of several other key players being unable for selection, including Kieran Foran, who will miss this due to injury. If all players were available, they would have a remarkably different and undoubtedly stronger, team. Nevertheless, they have potential to perform well, although the form of the Warriors is bound to cast uncertainty about how they will perform with Shaun Johnson named at halfback. The halves pairing of Johnson and Kodi Nikorima will ensure they are potent, with the responsibility on the forwards to create a platform for the exciting backline to benefit from. Samoa has a respectable team, however their poise during matches is bound to come under scrutiny, especially with Ben Roberts named at halfback. Ironically enough, each team possesses players that are eligible for both countries and the passion for this game will be high. The Kiwis will enjoy the opportunity to play in front of home fans and deserve favoritism for this game on the disparity of strength between the two teams. Whether or not Samoa read into this and believe they are the lesser of the two sides will impact upon the outcome. Given they went close to upsetting their opponents 3 years ago and that will give them confidence of doing the same here. More needs to been seen from the Kiwis before you can back them with confidence and while Samoa are also relatively unknown, the Kiwis demonstrated earlier in the season against Australia that they need time together to build combinations and improve.
Samoa +12.5 @ $1.90
Fiji ($1.01) v USA ($15.00)
This game is as one-sided as the odds suggest, Fiji will have is all their own way and there is little interest in this match other than how Fiji progress for their future, far more difficult, matches against Italy and Ireland. Given the wealth of NRL experience within this team, expect a large difference between these two sides at fulltime.
Fiji 30+ @ $1.72
Ireland ($5.00) v Italy ($1.17)
There is some hype around the Italian team with James Tedesco featuring, along with some other regular first grades mixed with uncapped players. His injection to the side will offer a unique attacking edge, although they may find the early stages of this game tough. The naming of Terry Campese in the team is an intriguing one, as he has spent the majority of the season in the local Canberra competition as Captain/Coach; the experience he brings to this team will be needed, as he offers support for Jack Johns, the son of Matthew. Ireland are a team that is made up of a few players form the Super League, with several reserve grade players from NSW and QLD; no player is a household name, confirming their status as underdogs for this tournament (something they may relish). They need to rely upon a sturdy defensive structure that limits the attacking opportunities of Italy. Both teams will need to come to terms with the conditions in Mackay, which are bound to increase the fatigue levels towards the end of this match. While they will have their opponents measure for this match, many are still relying on the development of combinations to build this team towards a dominant victory. As uncertainty surrounds this, the safer option appears to be taking Italy to win by more than 2 converted tries and seeing just how this team comes together.
Italy 13+ @ $1.72
France ($1.80) v Lebanon ($2.00)
In the closest match of Week 1, France and Lebanon face off in an important match for the future of both sides. To put it simply, they are in Pool A with Australia and England, and if either side hopes to progress beyond this stage, they must win this match. Working in France’s favor is the unity within this team; majority of their players either play for the Catalans Dragons in the Super League or a lower tier team in France. They are a capable side with a wealth of experience that could be overlooked given the various names of players in the Lebanese team. They too are capable, but cannot afford to be caught in the hype that the likes of Moses, Farah, Lichaa and Mannah bring to this side. Rather, they need to draw on their experience and use it to their advantage. The injection of experience to their lineup will help, although France appear to have them covered in most other areas of the field and are a more balanced team. This game is going to be tight and it is hard to go past France to win this game, the quality of their team is superior and it will take a concerted effort or a mark of coaching brilliance from Brad Fittler to alter the course of this match.
France 1-12 @ $3
Scotland ($15.00) v Tonga ($1.01)
Much like a few other matches in Week 1, this match is set to be a very one-sided contest. Tonga have been boosted by the inclusion of Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumalolo, two players who walked away from Australia and New Zealand respectively, to play here. The form of Taumalolo alone was enough to make people take notice of Tonga in this tournament and there is a wealth of talent around this team to make them competitive. There is little doubt that they are the strong team outside of Australia, New Zealand and England, with the possibility that they could cause an upset to the latter two. Their chances, while relying heavily on the forwards, will come down to how much poise they play with. Ata Hingano will play halfback and Tui Lolohea 5/8, two very talented players that are inconsistent but brilliant when at their best. They will need to use the platform that is created for them in the middle or risk disrupting their aspirations for this tournament. If Scotland were at full-strength and had the services of Lachlan Coote, Kane Linnett, Peter Wallace and Euan Aitken, they would be far more competitive; however with their withdrawal, they will find it very difficult to compete over 80 minutes with a superior team. It is difficult to find value in this game and you may have to combine this bet with a few others over the weekend.
Tonga 19+ @ $1.35