Mad Monday: World Cup quarterfinals building to be best ever

Riley Pettigrew Roar Guru

By , Riley Pettigrew is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger

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    The final eight are set and the Rugby League World Cup is shaping up to be the closest ever after another weekend of quality football.

    Australia, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Fiji have finished top of their respective groups while England, Lebanon, New Zealand and Samoa have also qualified.

    It means that northern hemisphere nations France, Ireland, Italy, the United States, Scotland and Wales will all be packing their bags and going home early.

    Pacific nations continue meteoric rise
    All four Pacific nations had a weekend to remember gaining qualification into the quarter-finals. Tonga have qualified for the first time while Papua New Guinea will get a taste for the first time since 2000.

    Fiji were tested on Friday night when they faced off against Italy, enduring a quality affair which was marred by ill discipline from both sides.

    The Bati prevailed 38-10 with Henry Raiwalui displaying great composure in the halves while Apisai Koroisau stood out at hooker and Suliasi Vunivalu bagged three tries.

    The Italians pushed the Fijians to the brink in a last-ditch attempt to keep their tournament hopes alive but James Tedesco and Terry Campese failed to inspire in the halves as their forwards struggled to gain metres.

    Tonga caused one of the biggest upsets in Rugby League World Cup history after defeating world No.2 New Zealand 28-22 in Hamilton.

    A massive crowd was present as New Zealand raced away in the first half to a convincing 16-2 lead but the Tongans caught wind early on in the second half racing home in fantastic finish to take their place on top of Group B, in doing so becoming the first tier two nation to defeat one of the big three in a Rugby League World Cup, illustrating the closing of the gap in international rugby league.

    Polynesian rivals Samoa managed to scrape through on points differential, a second half comeback helping to propel them into the finals.

    Toa struggled early on in Cairns with Scotland dominating in the opening quarter however, Samoa soon found their stripes, closing out the game to a 14-all draw after a failed Danny Addy drop goal in the dying stages. They aren’t expected to go much further though as Australia loom in Darwin.

    The Kumuls have topped Group C continuing their unbeaten record with a 64-0 win over the United States. Debutant Lachlan Lam excelled as Papua New Guinea once again put on a masterclass in Port Moresby.

    Although they have won all three of their matches easily, the Kumuls are no shoe-in for the semifinals as world No.3 England await in Melbourne for what will be an armwrestle.

    Are Tonga the real deal?
    Tonga’s historic victory over New Zealand begs questions over whether they can go all the way and knock off the likes of England on their road to the final.

    There were serious concerns during the first half as the Kiwis raced off to a 16-2 lead but the Tongans stepped up with plenty of passion and experience showing in the second half.

    Tonga 2017 Rugby League World Cup

    (NRL Photos/Shane Wenzlick)

    The biggest weakness for Tonga is the halves pairing of Tuimoala Lolohea and Ata Hingano who are both relatively inexperienced and unable to take the game by the scruff of the neck. It will be a big task to get past a possible match-up against England in the semifinals but the ‘home’ advantage in Christchurch and Auckland will serve them well with a strong contingent of Tongan supporters.

    Ultimately if Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumalolo can get Tonga moving forward, Lolohea and Hingano will be able to take a step back and play their natural running games as opposed to focusing on earning position.

    A World Cup final isn’t beyond Tonga as if they can dominate the middle of the park, they can seriously challenge any nation.

    Ireland bow out but proved they have more than just luck
    One of the best stories to come out of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup has been the resurgence of Ireland.

    Liam Finn has led the Wolfhounds in a strong campaign despite failing to reach the quarter-finals.

    The Irish shocked many in week one when they hammered Italy 36-12, adjusting well to the heat in Cairns off the back of some impressive work by Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook.

    Ireland proved it was more than a fluke in putting up a fight against Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby, losing 14-6 but displaying great resilience to hold so close to a team which just a week earlier smashed Wales 50-6.

    In their week three fixture against Wales, the Wolfhounds dominated prevailing 34-6 despite losing stand-off Joe Keyes. The Irish capitalised on Wales’ errors, with Liam Finn showing his class as one of the game’s premier playmakers. Their large lead at half-time was too much for the Welsh to overcome, the Irish falling shy of the quarter-finals due to their loss to Papua New Guinea.

    If the 2017 Rugby League World Cup has shown one thing, it’s that northern hemisphere rugby league has more than one contender. Ireland have the potential to be like their rugby union cousins and become a genuine competitor on the global stage.

    Just who is going to win it all?
    Australia remain the overwhelming favourite to hold up the Paul Barriere Trophy at Suncorp Stadium however, they are facing serious pressure after failing to live up to their full potential.

    Australia have a strong side but are yet to fully flex their muscles with relatively close matches early on in their campaign. After narrowly knocking off England 18-4 and then overcoming France 52-6, the Kangaroos weren’t overly impressive in Sydney against Lebanon with a very high error count for completions of just 69 per cent.

    The host nation will be looking to improve against Samoa who are yet to win a match but qualify on for-and-against after drawing with Scotland. The Samoans are unlikely to push past Australia and would require a big effort from their pack as well as direction in the halves from Ben Roberts.

    Josh Dugan Australia Rugby League World Cup 2017

    (NRLPhotos/Jeff Crow)

    Fellow Pacific nations Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tonga have all pressed their claims in topping their respective groups. Tonga have already caused an upset in defeating New Zealand and have shown they can dominate a team in the middle of the park and that their passion can get them over the line.

    Papua New Guinea have also been stellar with great team chemistry and passion but have only had one decent hit out against Ireland which they won ugly.

    Fiji too have had just one tough match coming against Italy and showed ill-discipline, requiring massive improvement ahead of their meeting with New Zealand in Wellington. The Kiwis, despite losing to Tonga, still remain in the hunt with Shaun Johnson doing a good job at halfback and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck returning to his best.

    The other big three nation, England, haven’t shown too many signs other than in their week one loss to Australia. The loss of Sam Burgess has crippled the Poms but they will be ready to go in Melbourne against a Papua New Guinea outfit which is yet to play a game outside of Port Moresby. They did however come into their own against France in a strong 36-6 showing.

    Lebanon on the other hand didn’t succumb to Australia, remaining in the hunt for most of the game despite the 34-0 scoreline. Injuries will seriously hinder their road to the final but some luck and composure in the halves could go a long way against Tonga.

    Team of the week
    1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand) – Demonstrating his dazzling footwork and ability to break the line, Tuivasa-Sheck starred scoring two tries and running for over 200 metres.

    2. Suliasi Vunivalu (Fiji) – Continuing his try scoring streak, Vunivalu bagged a hattrick in Fiji’s win over Italy.

    3. Taane Milne (Fiji) – Milne’s combination with Vunivalu on the right wing continued as he
    provided two try assists and proved to be solid both in attack and defence.

    4. Cameron Munster (Australia) – Munster was brilliant with every touch, scoring two tries as Australia surged into the quarter-finals with their win over Lebanon.

    5. Jermaine McGillvary (England) – One of the standout players all tournament, McGillvary crossed for another two tries against France with five line breaks and over 200 metres run.

    6. Lachlan Lam (Papua New Guinea) – On debut, Lachlan Lam scored a double and provided the crux of the Kumuls’ attack as they obliterated America.

    7. Henry Raiwalui (Fiji) – Raiwalui displayed composure in the halves, guiding them to a win over Italy to help them into the quarter-finals.

    8. Moses Meninga (Papua New Guinea) – Although he only played just under 40 minutes, Meninga stood tall running for 152 metres from 13 carries and making great contributions on defence.

    9. Apisai Koroisau (Fiji) – Koroisau was a livewire out of dummy half for Fiji providing 40 tackles and also being handy on attack with a line break and some strong runs to his name.

    10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Tonga) – The prop forward was enormous for the Tongans making some strong runs and providing a helping hand in conversions.

    11. Josh Papalii (Samoa) – Papalii helped Samoa to fight for a draw in a strong 80-minute effort that saw him make 26 tackles and run for 124 metres.

    12. Boyd Cordner (Australia) – Cordner continued his strong form as Australia’s premier backrower with a try and some great contributions in attack.

    13. Jason Taumalolo (Tonga) – Taumalolo relished the occasion against New Zealand once again staking his claim as the world’s best forward in running for 174 metres and making 21 tackles.

    Jason Taumalolo Tonga Rugby League World Cup 2017

    (NRLPhotos/Scott Davis)

    14. James Graham (England) – Graham provided his usual passion for the England jumper in running for 145 metres and adding a try to his tally.

    15. Justin Olam (Papua New Guinea) – With three tries to his name, Olam helped Papua New Guinea to yet another win and proved lethal on the wing.

    16. David Fusitua (Tonga) – Fusitua broke the game open for Tonga in the second half with his hat trick of tries ultimately proving to be the distance. He was strong under the high ball and composed on defence.

    17. Nelson Asofa-Solomona (New Zealand) – Asofa-Solomona had huge impact off the bench with 156 metres to his name as well as 21 tackles giving hope for the future of the Kiwis.

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