This weekend brings the curtain down on the 2013 Rugby League World Cup's group stage, and with it the final opportunity for teams to make their last-minute darts toward a place in the quarter-finals.
Saturday's fixtures are all about Group A and, although it's as good as decided just which of its inhabitants will be proceeding to the next phase of the competition, there's a lot to play for in terms of where they'll qualify.
Ahead of the weekend's opening fixtures, read on for a rundown of just when you can expect to see all of Saturday's drama, along with a preview of each encounter.
|2013 Rugby League World Cup - Saturday's Fixtures|
|England vs. Fiji||2:30 p.m. GMT/9:30 a.m. ET||KC Stadium, Hull||BBC One|
|Australia vs. Ireland||8 p.m. GMT/3 p.m. ET||Thomond Park, Limerick||Setanta Sports (IRE only)|
England vs. Fiji
Venue: KC Stadium, Hull
Sam Burgess returns to the England squad this weekend, having served his one-match ban for the high tackle dished out during their RLWC opener against Australia.
The South Sydney Rabbitoh will be keen to get back into his groove but should now have a cooler head on his shoulders after being given a week to simmer down. Meanwhile, brother Tom is rested for the Fiji fixture.
Considering both teams have virtually made it through to the last eight already—Group A boasts three qualifying spots—this game isn't the tight affair some will have been hoping for, but England must still live up to their tag of favourites and finish the group stage on a high.
Last weekend, the Bati were comprehensively tamed by the Kangaroos, restricted to kicking just one goal on their way to a 34-2 demolition, meaning they should have their sights set on stepping their attacking efforts up a notch in Hull.
Having scored 32 points against Ireland in their group opener, this Fiji side have, like their union counterparts, shown they're capable of great damage should they gain some attacking momentum.
With that being the case, Steve McNamara's England would be smart to take the initiative and peg their opponents back early if they're to proceed unscathed.
Australia vs. Ireland
Venue: Thomond Park, Limerick
The few NRL representatives among Ireland's World Cup squad will be all too familiar with the threat that Australia pose this weekend—and it's a threat they've little chance of withstanding.
Two years ago, Thomond Park played host to its first-ever rugby league encounter, a ground more accustomed to watching the exploits of its rugby union residents, Munster.
Since then, the game hasn't really taken off yet and Ireland currently have the worst defence in the competition after conceding an average of 37 points per game in their first two matches.
On that basis, they look extremely unlikely to cause an upset against the Kangaroos.
With his side as good as qualified as Group A's winners, Tim Sheens will rest senior members Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis, Darius Boyd and Matt Scott, instead relying on some of his lesser stars to bring home the win.
Even then, the Kangaroos should have more than enough to overcome Saturday's foes and maintain their perfect group record.
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