Rugby League World Cup Preview: Australia

Rugby League World Cup Preview: Australia
at The sporty basis, we will preview all 16 Rugby League World Cup nations before the men’s tournament kicks off on 15 October. In part five of the series we jump to Group B and take a look at World Cup favorites and reigning champions Australia and whether they will have what it takes to fend off a cluster of improving challengers this time around.

IRL Ranking: 4

Group: B

Schedule: Fiji (Headingley Stadium, Leeds); Scotland (Coventry Building Society Arena, Coventry); Italy (Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens)

World Cup appearances: 15 (1954, 1957, 1960, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1975, 1977, 1985-88, 1989-92, 1995, 2000, 2008, 2013, 2017)

Best result: Champions (1957, 1968, 1970, 1975, 1977, 1985-88, 1989-92, 1995, 2000, 2013, 2017)

head coach: Mal Meninga

title odds: $1.40

While Australia’s squad is likely to be weakened by several high-profile departures, the Kangaroos still have the largest talent pool in rugby world league and will be hard to beat once again, having gone unbeaten in their last two World Cup campaigns.

It has been almost three years since their last international match – a 12-16 defeat by Tonga in Auckland – when they meet Fiji in the tournament opener in Leeds.

They can also look forward to clashes against Scotland in Coventry and Italy in St Helens before progressing to the finals.

There is still some uncertainty surrounding Mal Meninga’s roster as the NRL Finals series is still being played and several hopefuls are yet to be signed. Roosters superstar James Tedesco is expected to carry the number one jumper and be given the captaincy following Boyd Cmapper’s retirement.

Meninga has a number of options down the centers and down the wing, with Latrell Mitchell likely being the only three-quarter guarantee down the middle. Expect Valentine Holmes to take either the center or wing position if he chooses to represent Australia against the Cook Islands, with Josh Addo-Carr, Selwyn Cobbo, Joseph Sua’ali’i, Corey Oates and Alex Johnston flanks are among those vying for vacancies in the Cook Islands. Dane Gagai, Matt Burton and Jack Wighton are all considered partners with Mitchell at centers, with Tom Trbojevic expected to miss the tournament through injury.

Cameron Munster will be the first-choice fifth eighth and is expected to be joined by Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans after a successful Origin campaign. While Cleary has proven to be the more prolific halfback at the NRL level, Cherry-Evans’ Queensland connection will likely earn him the nod alongside Munster. Wighton and Burton are also options in the halves, while Ben Hunt is likely to play a role, whether in the halves, on the hooker or on the bench.

Harry Grant and Damien Cook will battle for the hook role, with Reece Robson having a chance to travel with the team. Hunt has started as a hooker in Queensland’s last four Origin games with three wins and could be tasked with the same responsibility in the green-gold knight provided Meninga plans to carry two nines in his 17.

Penrith’s stalwart Isaah Yeo is favored to land the 13 shirt, with Cameron Murray expected to switch to an edge. Payne Haas, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Jake Trbojevic, Patty Carrigan, Reuben Cotter, Lindsay Collins and Jai Arrow are expected to be considered for mid-rotation spots, while Thomas Flegler, Jordan McLean or David Klemmer may join the framework for injuries.

While Murray is likely to be on one side, Meninga will be up against Kurt Capewell, Angus Crichton, Liam Martin, David Fifita, Jeremiah Nanai and Tom Gilbert on the other. Crichton, Martin and Gilbert all have midfield experience which would serve them well should Meninga prioritize versatility.

Exuding class in its backbone, this Aussie unit possesses a ton of firepower in its outer backs and a strong and dynamic forward pack. They’re the legitimate favorites, but New Zealand, Tonga, Sāmoa and England will all be waiting for their chance to take out the tournament’s heavyweights. The path to victory for these sides will likely come through Australia’s slightly weakened and inexperienced forward pack.

Assuming the group stage falters as expected, the chances of Australia meeting rivals New Zealand in the final seem slim as the two sides are expected to meet Tonga, Sāmoa and England on the other side of the group in the semi-finals.

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