Rugby League World Cup
Australia v England
AAMI Park, Melbourne
8pm AEDT Friday 27 October
The Rugby League World Cup kicks off on Friday night in Melbourne with tournament favourites the Kangaroos hosting the visiting English. Mal Meninga has named an extraordinarily strong line-up for the opening clash, despite being without Johnathan Thurston for the tournament. Michael Morgan has won the race for the number six jersey, holding off competition from James Maloney and Cameron Munster. Morgan’s late season heroics surely clinched the deal for the North Queenslander, though it must have been tempting to promote Munster after his stunning Origin debut. An embarrassment of riches, really.
Billy Slater makes his return to the fullback spot he owned for so long, and Dane Gagai earns a spot on the wing after an irresistible Origin series. Elsewhere the backline looks settled, and the existing combinations could be decisive.
Up front, there aren’t many surprises. Jake Trbojevic has an opportunity to make the number 13 his own for the next ten years, such is his class at such a young age. Jordan McLean gets his first opportunity in the green and gold from the bench, and Wade Graham will be asked to cover the utility role without a specialist back on the pine. It looks like Meninga is expecting a torrid battle in the pack.
It is almost impossible to know what to expect from the English on this tour. Prone to struggling away from home, it is vital for the sake of the tournament that they shake that tag quickly. Josh Hodgson and Gareth Widdop will bear a fair degree of responsibility to steer the team around, and they will be desperately hoping their big forwards challenge the Australians. The truth is that parity up front won’t be enough to stop the Kangaroo spine, so the pressure will fall on to Graham, Burgess and co to do some damage.
What will be interesting to observe is the influence that Wayne Bennett will have over the team. He worked wonders in a consultancy role for the Kiwis, and will be looking for similar success at the helm of the English. What he doesn’t necessarily have now, though, is the cattle that the Kiwis had in their prime. There is some class in the English line up, but whether they have enough to challenge the big guns in highly doubtful.
The Australians will start at Winx-like odds, so perhaps the value is to look at the line, where the English currently have 15.5 start. Looking at the history of first up matches on tour, and the untouchable form of the key Kangaroos, the smart money might be on the Aussies to cover that. Let’s hope the tournament gets off to a cracking start!
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Words: Cameron Stokes
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