Rugby League World Cup Group C: Papua New Guinea seeking finals finish

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    A proud Pacific nation where rugby league is a religion and two bitter rivals from the British Isles, there will be plenty at stake in Group C of the Rugby League World Cup.

    The Papua New Guinea Kumuls are the favourites to Group C having demonstrated plenty of flair and attacking prowess in the past. Hosting games in Port Moresby, the Kumuls will greet their opponents to a hostile environment which could serve to be of great assistance.

    After breaking their hoodoo on Australian soil earlier in the year, the Kumuls are looking to return to the top of the rugby league world having slipped down to No.15.

    Meanwhile after battling through qualification last year both Ireland and Wales will be out to make amends and announce themselves to the rugby league world.

    Each of the European nations have been into the final stages of the World Cup before and will be eager to return to the heights of the rugby league world in causing a major upset and knocking out Papua New Guinea.

    Ireland

    Fact File
    RLIF Ranking: 7
    Captain: Liam Finn
    Coach: Mark Aston
    World Cup Appearances (since 1995): 3 (2000, 2008, 2013)
    Best World Cup Finish: Quarter-finals (2000, 2008)

    They may be lacking NRL stars but Mark Aston will be hellbent on returning to the knockout stages in 2017 with Ireland hoping to defy the critics and cause some major upsets.

    The Wolfhounds have named an impressive star featuring Super League experience in Scott Grix, Api Pewhairangi, Liam Finn and Michael McIlorum which will help guide them around the park.

    It comes in addition to numerous Super League forwards most notably Kyle Amor and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook.

    Ireland have a very tough road ahead if they are to make the quarter-finals for the third time in their history with a star-studded Italy awaiting them in week one before taking on Papua New Guinea and Wales in the final weeks.

    The star… Liam Finn (Wakefield Trinity): Ireland skipper Liam Finn will turn 34 in November making him one of the oldest players at the Rugby League World Cup however, the Wakefield halfback is showing no signs of slowing down.

    Finn has been a staple of the Irish team since 2007 representing his nation on 24 occasions putting him just one test behind the Wolfhounds’ most capped player Bob Beswick.

    With Beswick sitting out of the tournament, Finn is set to take the mantle in week one and will be crucial to determining Ireland’s fate.

    His experience and composure in the halves will be felt with Mark Aston fielding a relatively young side lacking experience. Finn’s responsibilities will however be slightly relieved with the presence of Scott Grix and Michael McIlorum making for a strong spine.

    You don’t know me… Casey Dunne (Athboy Longhorns): Outside back Casey Dunne has been one of the standout players in Irish rugby league over recent years.

    Able to play anywhere in the backline, Dunne made his international debut in 2014 having played five Tests since. Playing his football with Athboy Longhorns as player-coach, Dunne led his side to a premiership victory in 2017 becoming All-Ireland champions.

    The Pikey Prince as he is affectionately known will add a strong local flavour to the Irish squad and will be on the fringe of cracking into the first team.

    The squad: Kyle Amor, Ed Chamberlain, Casey Dunne, Liam Finn, Scott Grix, Matty Hadden, James Hasson, Jack Higginson, Will Hope, Liam Kay, James Kelly, Joe Keyes, George King, Toby King, Tyrone McCarthy, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Shannon McDonnell, Michael McIlorum, Alan McMahon, Anthony Mullally, Api Pewhairangi, Joe Philbin, Oliver Roberts, Brad Singleton

    Best XVII: 1. Scott Grix, 2. Ed Chamberlain, 3. Toby King, 4. Jack Higginson, 5. Liam Kay, 6. Api Pewhairangi, 7. Liam Finn, 8. James Hasson, 9. Michael McIlorum, 10. Kyle Amor, 11. Oliver Roberts, 12. Tyrone McCarthy, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook
    Interchange: 14. Will Hope, 15. Anthony Mullally, 16. Brad Singleton, 17. George King

    Prediction: Third
    Ireland will struggle to win a game with Papua New Guinea and Wales both putting up strong squads however, they will gain plenty of experience from the tournament.

    Papua New Guinea

    Fact File
    RLIF Ranking: 15
    Captain: David Mead
    Coach: Michael Marum
    World Cup Appearances (since 1995): 4 (1995, 2000, 2008, 2013)
    Best World Cup Finish: Quarter-finals (2000)

    The Kumuls will have a strong local flavour for the 2017 World Cup with ten players selected from the premiership-winning Papua New Guinea Hunters.

    Chief among the Queensland Cup champions are front-rower Wellington Albert, fullback Stargroth Amean, halves pairing Ase and Watson Boas, as well as the raging bull of Kokopo Willie Minoga whose heroics saw the Hunters secure premiership glory over the Sunshine Coast Falcons. The chemistry between members of the Hunters squad will prove crucial.

    Rod Griffin Papua New Guinea Rugby League 2017

    (Image: NRL)

    Four NRL players led by captain David Mead will take part with Kurt Baptiste, Nene Macdonald and James Segeyaro all involved. They join Catalans Dragons hooker Paul Aiton from the Super League, the veteran returning to the Kumuls for the first time since 2013.

    Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs second row pair Rod Griffin and Rhyse Martin will add plenty of experience and flair to the forward pack while Sydney Roosters young gun Lachlan Lam is set to serve his apprenticeship under the Boas brothers and be given time to ply his trade.

    The Kumuls are favourites to top Group C and if the draw goes their way, they may progress deep into the knockout stages.

    The star (Ase Boas, PNG Hunters): Vice-captain Ase Boas will be one of Papua New Guinea’s most important players after what was a fantastic year with the Hunters in the Queensland Cup which saw him named as Best and Fairest.

    A police officer by day, Boas skippered the Hunters to a maiden premiership victory with their late win over the Sunshine Coast Falcons. The five-eighth has played alongside the majority of the playing group before and will be familiar with his teammates particularly his halves partner, brother Watson Boas.

    The combination of the Boas brothers in the halves will dictate the pace of the game and if they can replicate the success they achieved with the Hunters this year, Ase Boas and the Kumuls could be a force to be reckoned with.

    You don’t know me… (Garry Lo, Sheffield Eagles): A member of the inaugural PNG Hunters team, Garry Lo moved to the UK in 2016 to take on a challenge with Championship club Sheffield.

    The Mount Hagen product has settled in on the wing scoring an impressive 38 tries from 30 appearances in the 2017 season with the Eagles, leading the league for tries scored. Lo was named as the Championship Player of the Year as well as achieving the honour of Player’s Player and Supporter’s Player.

    The try scoring machine will settle in on the wing and will be hoping to continue his strike rate in the World Cup. Lo already has a bright future ahead of him having signed a deal with Castleford Tigers for 2018 on a two-year deal.

    The squad: Paul Aiton, Stanton Albert, Wellington Albert, Stargroth Amean, Kurt Baptiste, Ase Boas, Watson Boas, Rod Griffin, Lachlan Lam, Garry Lo, Nene MacDonald, Enoch Maki, Rhyse Martin, David Mead, Moses Meninga, Willie Minoga, Justin Olam, Kato Ottio, Luke Page, Wartovo Puara, Nixon Putt, James Segeyaro, Thompson Teteh

    Best XVII: 1. Stargroth Amean, 2. David Mead (c), 3. Thompson Teteh, 4. Garry Lo, 5. Nene MacDonald, 6. Ase Boas, 7. Watson Boas, 8. Wellington Albert, 9. Wartovo Puara, 10. Luke Page, 11. Rhyse Martin, 12. Nixon Putt, 13. Rod Griffin
    Interchange: 14. Kurt Baptiste, 15. Stanton Albert, 16. Willie Minoga, 17. Enoch Maki

    Prediction: Quarter-finals
    Papua New Guinea’s chemistry as a playing group will help them through to the quarter-finals but a matchup against England will prove to be a serious challenge.

    Wales

    Fact File
    RLIF Ranking: 9
    Captain: Craig Kopczak
    Coach: John Kear
    World Cup Appearances (since 1995): 3 (1995, 2000, 2013)
    Best World Cup Finish: Semi-finals (1995, 2000)

    Fifteen players from the squad which helped Wales qualify for the World Cup will return a year later with John Kear naming a talented roster.

    There will be only three debutants in an otherwise experienced Welsh line-up with Chester Butler, Gavin Bennion and Josh Ralph all in line for their first appearances.

    Among Kear’s squad are star St Helens pair Regan Grace and Morgan Knowles who have become first grade regulars in 2017 while they are joined by other big name stars including Rhodri Lloyd, Elliot Kear, talented stand-off Courtney Davies and skipper Craig Kopczak.

    Kopczak, Lloyd and Kear join Rhys Williams, Christiaan Roets, Matt Seamark and Ben Evans as players returning from the 2013 World Cup.

    They will be looking to do better after finishing last in their pool in 2013 with the hopes of getting past tough opposition in Ireland and a quality Papua New Guinea outfit.

    The star… Regan Grace (St Helens): Winger Regan Grace is one of three St Helens players selected for Wales, capping off a brilliant year for the Port Talbot native.

    Grace made his international debut in 2015 also appearing in last year’s World Cup qualifiers where he scored a double against Serbia.

    He has found a regular place on the wing for St Helens since making his debut back last year scoring 10 tries in 2017 and being shortlisted for Super League young player of the year alongside teammate Morgan Knowles, also named for Wales.

    Grace will be the star in the backline alongside London pair Elliot Kear and Rhys Williams with the talented youngster hoping to find the tryline.

    You don’t know me… Josh Ralph (Tweed Heads Seagulls): Former Gold Coast Titans NYC player Josh Ralph is in line to make his Test debut after being named in John Kear’s 24-man squad.

    The halfback who is currently playing for the Tweed Heads Seagulls in the Queensland Cup, qualifies through his Welsh grandmother.

    Ralph was slated as one of the next young talents after starring for the Titans’ U20s in 2016 scoring 13 tries in 12 matches.

    He might have to wait his turn before he can get his hands on a Welsh jumper though with Danny Ansell and Courtney Davies likely to be Kear’s first choice while Matty Fozard and Matt Seamark will also be after spots in the halves.

    The squad: Danny Ansell, Matt Barron, Gavin Bennion, Joe Burke, Chester Butler, Michael Channing, Courtney Davies, Ben Evans, Matty Fozard, Andrew Gay, Regan Grace, Dalton Grant, Sam Hopkins, Phil Joseph, Elliot Kear, Morgan Knowles, Craig Kopczak, Rhodri Lloyd, Ben Morris, Steve Parry, Josh Ralph, Christiaan Roets, Matt Seamark, Rhys Williams

    Best XVII: 1. Elliot Kear, 2. Regan Grace, 3. Christiaan Roets, 4. Andrew Gay, 5. Rhys Williams, 6. Danny Ansell, 7. Courtney Davies, 8. Sam Hopkins, 9. Matty Fozard, 10. Craig Kopczak, 11. Rhodri Lloyd, 12. Phil Joseph, 13. Morgan Knowles
    Interchange: 14. Joe Burke, 15. Ben Evans, 16. Ben Morris, 17. Steve Parry

    Prediction: Second
    Wales will manage to string together a win over Ireland but struggle in their matches against Pacific powerhouses Papua New Guinea and Fiji to finish second in Group C.

    The draw for Group C is as follows

    Papua New Guinea versus Wales at National Football Stadium, Port Moresby (28 October)
    Ireland versus Italy (Group D) at Barlow Park, Cairns (29 October)
    Papua New Guinea versus Ireland at National Football Stadium, Port Moresby (5 November)
    Wales versus Fiji (Group D) at Townsville Stadium, Townsville (5 November)
    Wales versus Ireland at National Football Stadium, Port Moresby (12 November)
    Papua New Guinea versus United States (Group D) at National Football Stadium, Port Moresby (12 November)

    Game to watch: Papua New Guinea versus Wales (28 October)

    The Kumuls and Dragons are expected to be the top two teams in Group C and there is no better way to kick off proceedings than between the experienced sides.

    Both Papua New Guinea and Wales have strong local systems in the lower grades with the team chemistry of both sides to be tested.

    With the game to be witnessed by a sellout crowd in Port Moresby, it will highlight whether either team is able to compete against the big guns of international rugby league.

    Although Ireland will still loom for both teams, Group C could be determined after only 80 minutes in week one.

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