The Rugby League World Cup is one of the major sporting tournaments of the year and fourteen teams are competing in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea from this Friday until the final in Brisbane on December 2nd. Australia cannot be opposed and look unbeatable at home.
The first match of the tournament is a group clash between Australia and England and the betting suggests that could also be the last match. Australia are big favourites to win the World Cup for the 11th time. England have never been the world champions in rugby league.
The first stage involves two groups of four teams and two groups of three teams who play each other on a round-robin basis. The top two teams in each group progress to the knockout rounds which culminate in the final. Matches are settled in 80 minutes or after extra-time if required.
There have been fourteen World Cups in rugby league in the past and only Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain have won the trophy. England were the losing finalists in 1975 and 1995 and reached the last four in 2000, 2008 and 2013 when the tournament was played in the UK, Ireland and France.
The tournament was expanded in 1995 and featured group stages and a knockout round. There have only been four events in this format of which Australia have won three. New Zealand won the World Cup in 2008 which was played in Australia. Only these two nations and France have appeared in every Rugby League World Cup but either Great Britain or England have always qualified.
In 2013 Australia beat New Zealand 34-2 in the final at Old Trafford. The match set a new record for the biggest attendance in the history of the tournament. New Zealand beat England in the semi-finals with a last minute try so England would have struggled to beat Australia if they had qualified for the final.
The Kangaroos are still the team to beat and it would be a major upset if they did not win the trophy. Cooper Cronk will have extra responsibility in the absence of Jonathan Thurston but is the world’s best scrum-half. Most pundits predict the Aussies as the winners and it’s hard to disagree with the bookmaker’s assessment.
It would take a massive effort for England to win the trophy for the first time at a tournament in the Southern Hemisphere. Uncapped Warrington man Ben Currie could make a huge impact if given the chance at centre or second-row. Making the final is the minimum requirement for England but beating the Aussies looks beyond them.
New Zealand are the third favourites and look good things for a place in the last four. Shaun Johnson was voted the best player in the world in 2014. He has to be at his best for any chance of his side winning the big prize. The Kiwis have been hit by some high-profile absentees and they face a test to progress from the group that also includes Samoa, Tonga and Scotland.
Tonga are a good outside bet to go all the way but are not strong enough to win the World Cup for the first time. In Jason Taumalolo they have one of the most destructive forwards in the world. Their powerful, experienced squad could be dark horses for a place in the final.
However, Australia are too good to be denied and will be running around the Brisbane Stadium early in December with the trophy. Shocks in sport do not happen but even at 1/4 to win the Rugby League World Cup Australia look like one of the best bets of the year and the outcome returns a healthy 25% on your investment.