The Rugby League World Cup is underway in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea with the former, represented by the Kangaroos, searching for an 11th title as they defend the Paul Barriere Trophy they won in 2013 at Old Trafford in Manchester. Week one of the tournament saw wins to Australia in the opening game over England plus victories to Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Fiji, Ireland, Tonga, and Lebanon.
Mal Meninga’s Australia only secured victory late in game one at Melbourne’s AAMI Park 18-4 over England after a disjointed performance from both sides. When Sydney Roosters-bound Cooper Cronk made an error forcing an offload early in the match it was perhaps obvious the game was going to be an interesting contest, even if it wasn’t going to be one of high quality. The biggest issue for the winners was the loss of forward Jake Trbojevic to a tournament-ending pectoral injury. England will now face Lebanon, who scored their first ever World Cup victory when they beat France in Canberra, when the two sides venture to Sydney for their group A game on Saturday night.
Michael Morgan, not the Australian player, scored one of six tries for Ireland in their upset win over Italy in Cairns on Saturday in what was the shock result of week one. Morgan, 21, is contracted to the Bulldogs NRL squad next season and dotted down in the second half of their 36-12 triumph over the Azzuri. This makes the Wolfhounds match on Sunday in Port Moresby all the more crucial as it will likely decide who progresses to the quarter finals from group C with only one team in that three-team pool making the knockout phase.
Fiji’s 11 tries to two win over the USA in Townsville was comprehensive in its class but also showed a glimpse of those that toil away on the fringes of the big time but never quite make it. Henry Raiwalui was the only try-scorer for the Bati who hasn’t played in the NRL despite time with the Dragons and Eels feeder club Wentworthville. At 28 it was his third game for Fiji. His side could be bound for the quarter finals following their win over the ‘Hawks.
Tonga, with their big name additions, lived up to the hype defeating Scotland 50-4 in the Barlow Park double-header. The game in Cairns saw Tonga run in seven tries in the opening 40 minutes which was broken up due to the weather with the heat meaning the game was played in quarters. With three teams progressing from the four-team pool of group B to the knockout stage the result sets up Kristian Woolf’s side to improve on 2013 when the Bravehearts progressed to the last eight ahead of the Mate Ma’a.
It’s been an interesting start to the tournament with some key positions such PNG’s big opening win over Wales (50-6) coming on the back of a multi-hooker combination with Kurt Baptiste and James Segeyaro coming off the bench in addition to PNG Hunters Queensland Cup player Wartovo Puara and Paul Aiton (playing in the back row) both starting. Not to be outdone this weekend New Zealand have gone the other way in dropping Danny Levi to the bench after they beat Samoa first up 38-8. Wests Tigers backrower Elijah Taylor has got the nod to play in the number nine against Scotland in Christchurch. Newcastle rake Levi could run on and play big minutes but after such an impressive start making the change in a key position seems strange from Kiwis coach David Kidwell even against a side that was soundly beaten in their first game of the tournament. Scotland, admittedly featuring key players that are absent from this edition of the showpiece event, did draw 18-all with New Zealand in last year’s Four Nations when the Kiwis gave up a last minute try to Euan Aitken (not playing this year) in the game in Workington.
Image via bbc.com