CARDIFF, WALES – The Rugby League World Cup is just days away and as promised, here is Part 2 of our two-part series on the Possible Winners and the Probable Winners of Rugby League’s showcase event. Part 1 dealt with the teams that might upset the apple cart, this one deals with those that should keep said cart from going over. With that, here’s our 2013 Rugby League World Cup Preview: The Probables:
Its not quite a two-horse race but it would take a truly superhuman effort from the Possibles to beat either Australia or New Zealand. Unless they are dragged into a dogfight, these teams should be the finalists… but I’ve been wrong before.
The Kangaroos are a truly daunting prospect this year. There has always been a worrying consistency about them, much like the All Blacks in the union, there is always a new superstar to fill the gap left by an out-going or injured player. And this year is no different. Injured veteran centre Justin Hodges is replaced by the Sydney Roosters rocket Michael Jennings. Hard-hitting youngster Josh Papalii adds yet another enforcer to an Australian pack that would look more at home in a cage fight. Newly minted boom prop Andrew Fifita backs up from an outstanding NRL campaign, bringing genuine athleticism and speed (not to mention considerable bulk) to the position.
After the newbies it’s a worrying case of déjà vu. Captain and zen-like general, Cameron Smith, leads out his likely lads. Greg Inglis will move to the centres to accommodate Billy Slater. A certain Mr. J. Thurston will conduct operations as usual and will be ably backed up by his protégé Daly Cherry Evans. The introduction of skilful ball playing second rower Corey Parker, will give Australia a real offloading threat to go with the hard nosed running of Paul Gallen. Matt Scott and James Tamou.
Psychologically, there will be a burning rage within the hearts of the majority of this team. It is they who so tamely handed over the World Cup to the Kiwis last time around. This anger will get them through the early stages of the tournament, but come the knockout stages they will have to show more calmness than 2008.
And so to the defending champions. New Zealand will consider themselves relatively lucky that they picked that fateful night 5 years ago to produce one of their most clinical performances to date. As the Kangaroos steadily lost control, the Kiwis willingly took up the slack. This time will be different. This time the Kiwis look like the World Champions! Their forwards are to a man, big ball-carrying hard-hitters. Limited creativity is usurped by sheer brute force in the form of players like Jared Waerea Hargreaves and Ben Matulino. But that is not to say they lack intelligence up front. 130kg giant Sam Kasiano and Greg Eastwood provide a perfect offloading duo that will allow second wave runners to punch holes in retreating defences.
However, limited creativity is not ZERO creativity… oh no! Sonny Bill Williams and mercurial loose forward Krisnan Inu are two of the most skilful rugby players in the world.
Their centres, Dean Whare, Elijah Taylor and Bryson Goodwin are not as unique as the Australians but their back three is a beautiful blend of speed and power, with whiz kid Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Manu Vatuvei bringing two very different styles of wing to the party. It is in their halves that the Kiwis have their real weapons, the loss of Benji Marshall is of little consequence, with many believing that Shaun Johnson is equally as impressive, if not more so. Kieran Foran’s kicking game is second to none and his ability to run at opposition defences can cause panic.
This New Zealand side are one that can strike from anywhere. Their power punching style can easily be moulded into a cunning offloading game allowing their turbo charged backs to get in behind defences. This ability to switch styles is perfectly supplemented by the individual brilliance of numerous players, and that may be what is required.
Make no mistake, if these two teams meet in the Final it will not be a team effort that wins the game – it will be a moment of individual magic. These two teams are so evenly matched that it is near impossible to call. If one team gets an early foothold in the match then who knows? But based on last season’s NRL and the maverick abilities of players like Inglis and Sonny Bill, this game could go to the wire. Australia will need to use their superior back line to put up early points and the Kiwis will be aiming to pound the Australians into submission with their forward pack.
Do not leave your seats this Rugby League World Cup could be the best ever!
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