The whistle has only just blown on the Super League Grand Final, but already all eyes have switched to the staging of the fifteenth Rugby League World Cup Final. With all the Home Nations in action can anyone break the Southern Hemisphere dominance?
The tournament is being jointly hosted by Australia, New Zealand and Papa New Guinea, with the first match of the tournament taking place in Melbourne on 27th October, with the final being on 2nd December in Brisbane at the 52,500 capacity Brisbane Stadium.
This is a tournament dominated by the Australian’s who have won it a whopping 10 times including 7 of the past 8. The only other team to win it since 1975 was New Zealand in 2008.
A combined Great Britain team did win 3 of the first 6 tournaments, but since 1995 they have competed as separate countries, with England coming the closet to victory, finishing runners up twice.
14 teams have qualified for the tournament which makes for an interesting group stage…
The first two groups are made up of four teams whilst the other two groups feature three teams each. The top three teams in the first two groups and the winners of the two smaller groups will qualify for the quarter-finals. Group play will involve a round robin in the larger groups, and a round robin in the smaller groups with an additional inter-group game for each team so all teams will play three group games.
Surely it would’ve just been easy to let 16 teams qualify? But we digress. You do end up with 8 teams through to the quarter-finals, which naturally leads to a semi-final and then final.
England find themselves in a group (A) of 4 along with yes you guessed it Australia, as well as France and Lebanon. 4-team group B includes Scotland, New Zealand, Samoa, and Tonga, whereas the 3-team, groups are made up of Wales, Ireland, and Papa New Guinea (Group C), as well as Fiji, Italy, and the USA (Group D).
The England squad picked by Head Coach Wayne Bennett is Captained by Sean O’Loughlin, and includes Luke Gale, who was crowned the Man of Steel winner at last week’s Super League Final, Half-Back of the Year, Gareth Widdop and the Super League’s top metre-maker, Alex Walmsley.
Sam Tomkins misses out, as does Zak Hardaker after much publicised suspension from the game, but there are debut call ups for forward Ben Currie and the previously mention Alex Walmsley.
Meanwhile Wales boss John Kear has named 3 uncapped players in his 24-man squad with Chester Butler, Gavion Bennion, and Josh Ralph all getting the nod for a squad that will be captained by Craig Kopczak, and also features two of the sports rising stars in winger Regan Grace, and Morgan Knowles both of whom are 20.
And whilst Scotland Head Coach Steve McCormack is yet to name his squad, his Irish counterpart Mark Aston has, and has kept the core squad that qualified for the tournament, as well as the past few European Championships. As expected it is captained by Liam Finn.
Matches can be seen on the BBC, and for more information please head to the official Rugby League World Cup website here.