Australia vs Samoa: Rugby League World Cup quarter-final preview and prediction

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    The group stage of the Rugby League World Cup is finished, but Australia will be looking to continue their dominant run when they head to Darwin for a quarter-final against Toa Samoa.

    Australia have been superior to the competition, although at times it’s actually looked like they’ve struggled for cohesiveness, especially on the attacking end.

    They haven’t been helped by playing a different 17 every week and, while the scoreboard in their last two matches will indicate they haven’t been challenged, there are more than a few reasons to be concerned ahead of what is going to be a very difficult match against Samoa.

    Australia kicked off their campaign with a tough win over England. While dominant, they looked rusty. It was hardly a surprise considering no one had played for three weeks, and most of that seemed to be shaken off on the other side of halftime as the Kangaroos ran away with an 18-4 win.

    It wasn’t convincing, but their second effort against France a week later was a lot stronger. They were still challenged early by France, who defended their line admirably to stay in the game.

    Australia can expect a similar level of defence from Toa Samoa, who will play with a fire and passion which we so often see from the Pacific nations, especially at this stage of the tournament.

    On the back of four tries from Wade Graham, the Kangaroos thumped France 52-6, running away just before halftime and during the second half. Their third win over Lebanon will be the one which concerns coach Mal Meninga.

    Australia struggled to control the pace of the game against a forward pack with plenty of players who don’t have NRL experience and who don’t play full time. Despite not having their best 17 on the park, it’s genuinely concerning how poor the game was.

    In the end, the scoreboard read 34-0 and those who didn’t watch the game wouldn’t assume there to be a problem, but the Kangaroos consistently put the ball down, lacked execution in attack and struggled to finish off plays. While they didn’t let in a try, Lebanon were equally bad with the ball and it’s difficult to remember more than a handful of times the Kangaroos’ line was threatened.

    While those problems might not flare up against Samoa, they are likely to in a potential semi-final against New Zealand and a final against either England or Tonga, all of whom have proven their pedigree throughout the World Cup.

    The Kangaroos should improve from what they have served up, but there are questions Meninga and his creative team of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Michael Morgan and Billy Slater have to answer in the lead-up to this game.

    Michael Morgan makes a break against France

    Making their cause difficult will be the weather – an expected forecast of 32 degrees and thunderstorms isn’t exactly beneficial for quality rugby league.

    While some will say Samoa have controversially qualified for the World Cup finals, it’s not really that.

    Sure, they didn’t actually win a game, their best result coming in the form of a draw against Scotland as they went through to the quarter-finals on for and against, but their opponents were a lot tougher than Ireland, who missed out in Group C.

    Samoa were tasked with trying to get past New Zealand and Tonga before playing Scotland and for the most part, they did more than a respectable job of dealing with two of the best sides at the Cup.

    Despite the final scoreline against New Zealand in their opener reading 38-8, they were right in the game at halftime and at one point early in the contest actually held a slender lead.

    They have proven they have the cattle to get the job done, but the execution and ability to battle for 80 minutes seem to be lacking.

    It bit them in the second game as they lost to Tonga 32-18. They weren’t expected to win the game against their Pacific rivals, but were in a position to do so once or twice and just couldn’t seal the deal.

    The real issues for Samoa started last week. Not beating Scotland – instead drawing 14-14 with them – is a real concern.

    The Bravehearts hadn’t been close in either of their first two games and took a complacent Samoa all the way to the line.

    Samoa must work on their ability to play 80 minutes, with halves Ben Roberts and Jerome Luai needing to pick up their game in a big way to guide the Samoan forwards around the park.

    Scoring has been a major issue for the Samoans. It was always going to be coming into the World Cup, given their struggles in the halves. Luai is a New South Wales Cup player at the Panthers, despite obvious talent and Roberts was never known as a strong player during his days in the NRL.

    He has been better in the English Super League, but still not a standout and up against the best in the world, he might struggle to buy his big forwards a chance to get into the game.

    Prediction
    I doubt this is going to be as much of a thrashing as some are predicting. The predicted rain and storms will cause some issues with ball handling, something Australia couldn’t seem to get right last week against Lebanon.

    Despite being at full strength now that the finals have arrived, they still had problems in their first group game against England, who haven’t exactly gone on and done brilliant things throughout the competition so far.

    The Kangaroos will also have to contend with a big Samoan forward pack, but no matter which way you look at it, Samoa getting across the line would be stunning. Anyone beating the world’s best team would be a shock from here to the end of the Cup.

    Junior Paulo Samoa Rugby League World Cup 2017

    (NRLPhotos/Nathan Hopkins)

    Australia will look to get the job done and get out of the heat in Darwin as quickly as possible, possibly resting stars at the back end of the contest as they prepare for a likely huge showdown with New Zealand in the semi-final – a match which wasn’t supposed to happen until the final of the tournament.

    Australia by 20.

    Key Game Information: Australia vs Samoa

    Kick-off: 8:30pm (AEDT) – 7pm (local)
    Venue: Darwin Stadium, Darwin, Northern Territory
    TV: Live, 7 (NSW, VIC, QLD), 7Mate (WA, SA), Southern Cross TV (NT, TAS)
    Online: Live, 7live.com.au or 7live application
    Betting: Australia $1.01, Samoa $21
    Overall record: Played 2, Australia 2, Samoa 0
    Last meeting: 2014 Four Nations – Australia 44 defeat Samoa 18 at WIN Stadium, Wollongong
    Referee: Phil Bentham

    Australia
    1. Billy Slater 2. Dane Gagai 3. Will Chambers 4. Josh Dugan 5. Valentine Holmes 6. Michael Morgan 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Aaron Woods 9. Cameron Smith 10. David Klemmer 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Matt Gillett 13. Josh Mcguire
    Interchange: 14. Wade Graham 15. Jordan McLean 16. Regan Campbell-Gillard 17. Tyson Frizell 18. Felise Kaufusi 19. Cameron Munster 20. James Maloney 21. Ben Hunt

    Samoa
    1. Young Tonumaipea 2. Matthew Wright 3. Ricky Leutele 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Timoteo Lafai 6. Jarome Luai 7. Ben Roberts 8. Junior Paulo 9. Jazz Tevaga 10. Herman Essese 11. Joshua Papalii 12. Frank Pritchard 13. Leeson Ah Mau
    Interchange: 14. Fa’amanu Brown 15. Bunty Afoa 16. Suaia Matagi 17. Joseph Paulo 18. Zane Musgrove 19. Frank Winterstein 20. Pita Godinet 21. Ken Maumalo

    Don’t forget that The Roar will be providing both a live blog and highlights of all the action from Darwin.

    Scott Pryde
    Scott Pryde

    One of the mainstays of The Roar, Scott Pryde has written over 1,100 articles covering everything from rugby league to basketball, from tennis to cricket. You can follow him on Twitter @sk_pryde.