The Rugby League World Cup got under way this weekend, and we were treated to a host of enthralling contests on the opening couple of days.
We managed to catch a glimpse of some of the favorites for the title, so with that in mind, let’s run the rule over some of those sides who look certain to challenge for the title of world champion.
The overwhelming favorites for the title got their campaign off to the perfect start with a victory over England. After being on the rack for long periods at the Millennium Stadium, the team composed themselves, refocused and produced some brutal, incisive rugby in the latter stages.
They are favorites for a reason and have a host of outstanding players at their disposal. After the heartbreak of losing the previous World Cup Final to arch rivals New Zealand, they will be doubly determined to regain a title that they will no doubt feel is rightly theirs.
Key Player: Johnathan Thurston. The halfback is a composed, calming presence on the Australia side. His ability to control a game with his superb handling and varied range of kicking will make the Kangaroos a very tough side to beat.
The current World Champions shocked the world when they triumphed over Australia five years ago. Then, Australia were the huge favorites in front of their own supporters in Brisbane.
But an inspired effort from the Kiwis saw them overcome the Kangaroos, and they will be hoping to call on that kind of spirit once again as they look to regain their World crown.
And they will certainly fancy their chances. Whilst the Aussies remain the odds-on favorites with the bookies, there are question marks over whether or not a side containing mainly veteran players will have enough over the course of a long tournament. If they do find the going tough, New Zealand look the side best placed to pounce.
Key Player: Sonny Bill Williams. Dynamic, powerful and classy with the ball, Sonny Bill Williams is a box-office talent. He will be looking to pick up another World Cup medal after winning the Rugby Union World Cup with his country two years ago. He would be the first player ever to win a world cup in both codes.
Despite suffering defeat in their opening game to Australia, England can take many positives from the game. Steve McNamara’s side stormed into a 10-0 lead against the pre-tournament favorites and looked well set to cause an opening-day upset.
But the Kangaroos showed their class as the game wore on, eventually running out 28-20 winners.
It was certainly a learning experience for the England side. McNamara bemoaned their naivety after his team conceded two tries just before half-time. They can certainly take a lot from the game and remain a dark horse for the title in front of home crowds.
Key Player: Ryan Hall. The Leeds Rhinos winger scored the opening goal for his side against Australia, and he will remain a real threat throughout the course of the competition. His pace, power and bustling body type make him a tough player for the opposition to contain.