Mad Monday: There’s a new world order in rugby league

Riley Pettigrew Roar Guru

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    The final four of the Rugby League World Cup has been confirmed with Australia, Fiji, Tonga and England all enjoying wins.

    World No.2 New Zealand were sent crashing out in ugly fashion against Fiji, placing David Kidwell on notice while Lebanon bowed out gracefully giving Tonga a serious test.

    Meanwhile, the Women’s Rugby League World Cup has achieved resounding success during its opening weekend as the Jillaroos asserted their dominance over the competition.

    Australia too good for Samoa as they march on to Brisbane
    The Kangaroos booked their place in the semifinals on Friday night with a dominant performance against Samoa.

    The Australians looked vulnerable early on in hot and humid conditions in the Top End but quickly smoothed out their jitters as they staked their claim with an early try to Valentine Holmes.

    A further try to Holmes as well as Billy Slater’s heroics helped the Kangaroos to gain a stronghold on the game before Michael Morgan blitzed the tired Samoans late in the first term.

    The Kangaroos continued their strong performance, justifying their tournament favouritism with Valentine Holmes scoring a further three tries in the second half. It came much to the delight of the capacity crowd, as Holmes was the first player in World Cup history to score five tries in a game.

    It was a disappointing tournament for Samoa who managed to scrape through on for-and-against following their 14-all draw with Scotland last weekend. The proud Pacific nation were unable to live up to expectations with Ben Roberts failing to provide direction in the middle of the park and their forwards lacking any grunt.

    Lebanon gallant as Tonga continue unbeaten streak
    Tonga have taken a step further in their dream World Cup campaign following their 24-22 defeat of Lebanon.

    Mitchell Moses starred for the Cedars, playing an instrumental role in maintaining a close match, the contest remaining fierce right up until the siren. Lebanon were hard done by with three disallowed tries keeping them on the back foot all game.

    It was the dominance of Tonga’s forward pack in the middle of the park which proved the difference however, Kristian Woolf’s outfit will face a tough battle in the semifinals against England. The sea of red will be expecting a big performance from their halves Tuimoala Lolohea and Ata Hingano as they struggled to take full control of the game a week after shocking New Zealand.

    Despite bowing out in the quarter-finals, there were plenty of positives for Lebanon who have established themselves as a competitive rugby league nation with their ticket to the 2021 Rugby League World Cup already booked.

    Mitchell Moses Lebanon Rugby League World Cup 2017

    (NRLPhotos/Robb Cox)

    Fiji Bati reign over New Zealand in tryless affair
    Fiji have sent world No.2 New Zealand packing with a 4-2 victory in Wellington. It was an enormous upset with the Kiwis failing to encapsulate their form of recent weeks in the windy city.

    It was a stark contrast to Fiji’s performances over recent weeks with no tries scored. The Bati managed to get the better of their opponents on penalty goals in a highly defensive affair riddled by errors and penalties.

    Despite the low scoring, it was a hard-fought battle right from the whistle with both sides displaying glimpse of brilliance at times. In the end though, New Zealand’s spine were unable to take advantage of their opportunities with fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and halfback Shaun Johnson both contained.

    With the toughest task in their history now looming, Michael Potter and the Bati have displayed themselves as a genuine force flying under the radar in their bid to lift the Paul Barriere Trophy.

    They will once again go into the semifinals against Australia as overwhelming underdogs but as they were able to prove against the Kiwis, the Bati don’t need to score tries to play a strong brand of football.

    England through to semifinals but plagued by errors
    Wayne Bennett’s England have booked their place in the semifinals in a scrappy game against Papua New Guinea.

    The Poms were on top of the Kumuls all afternoon with their forwards dominant while Luke Gale ran a tight ship however, neither side presented a case for the Paul Barriere Trophy with a high error count.

    England managed to complete just 56 per cent of their sets at 25/45 while Papua New Guinea were only slightly better at 69 per cent with 22 from 32.

    Jermaine McGillvary was outstanding for England while his three-quarter partner Kallum Watkins was equally impressive and so to Luke Gale however, 20 errors haunted the wall of white.

    England, who went into the tournament as second favourites to Australia, will now face a stern test in Tonga who will test the Lions’ pack. Bennett has a lot of questions to answer as the pressure mounts on England to reach the final.

    Tom Burgess England Rugby League 2017

    (Image: NRL)

    Women’s World Cup shines bright
    The Women’s Rugby League World Cup held in Cronulla has proven to be a success thus far.

    In the opening round, the big three nations cemented themselves with New Zealand dominant in their 50-4 victory over Canada while Australia without some of their big names ran riot over the Cook Islands 58-4 and England showed plenty of structure against Papua New Guinea 36-8.

    On Sunday for the second round, Australia begun the day with a dominant performance over England 38-0 before New Zealand gave the Cook Islands a 76-0 hiding, both nations booking their place in the semifinals.

    The calibre of talent on display over the opening two rounds proves there is enough to spread around a national competition. The NRL are doing great work at nurturing the grassroots level but there has never been a better time to expand.

    The success of the Matildas and AFL Women’s is proof that Australia and rugby league is ready for women’s sport. Teams can be based in Auckland, Brisbane, Canberra, Newcastle, Port Moresby, Sunshine Coast, Sydney and Townsville.

    And how about the Ravens? Could we see Toronto join the Women’s Super League in the future? It’d be a big step forward but would be a massive boost for rugby league in North America.

    Team of the week
    1. Kevin Naiqama (Fiji) – Led from the front in Fiji’s historic victory over New Zealand. His presence proved at the back was felt with 174 metres run.
    2. Jermaine McGillvary (England) – Made his impact on the game with two tries with line breaks helping him to accumulate 232 running metres. McGillvary was equally important in helping set up Kallum Watkins.
    3. Kallum Watkins (England) – Provided a strong combination with McGillvary scoring a double of his own and nearly bringing up 200 metres.
    4. Adam Doueihi (Lebanon) – Strong at three-quarter for the Cedars scoring a try and being denied another. Loomed as a threat all game and kept Tonga contained with 16 tackles.
    5. Valentine Holmes (Australia) – Monumental for the Kangaroos with five tries and three line breaks, smashing records as the green and gold steamrolled Samoa.
    6. Mitchell Moses (Lebanon) – One of the best performances from any player all tournament, Moses was lethal at all times helping to bring Lebanon within two points of Tonga.
    7. Cooper Cronk (Australia) – Cronk controlled the game from the scrumbase, helping to guide Australia to victory with two try assists and combining well with Michael Morgan.
    8. Andrew Fifita (Tonga) – Kept the Tongan engine room running with 193 metres from 18 hit-ups as well as 26 tackles.
    9. Michael Lichaa (Lebanon) – Dynamic out of dummy half and composed on defence, Lichaa helped spark the Lebanese attack and gave Tonga a fight.
    10. Ashton Sims (Fiji) – Dominated New Zealand in the middle of the park, made 142 metres showing no sign of age.
    11. Brayden Wiliame (Fiji) – Denied two tries, Wiliame was instrumental in setting up victory for the Bati helping to gain ground and providing strong defence.
    12. Manu Ma’u (Tonga) – A workhorse for Tonga, Ma’u once again starred with 35 tackles and 126 metres to his name.
    13. Jason Taumalolo (Tonga) – Stepped up when needed in 51 minutes for Mate Ma’a. Nearly cracked 200 metres and tested the Cedars’ defensive line.

    Jason Taumalolo Tonga Rugby League World Cup 2017

    (NRLPhotos/Scott Davis)

    14. Michael Morgan (Australia) – Combined well with Cronk scoring two tries and providing structure for the Kangaroos.
    15. Abbas Miski (Lebanon) – Starred on the wing in Lebanon’s loss to Tonga with a double.
    16. Nelson Asofa-Solomona (New Zealand) – Provided plenty of impact off the bench once again helping the Kiwis to stay in the game.
    17. Eloni Vunakece (Fiji) – Strong up front with 137 metres gained and 32 tackles, laid the platform for the Bati.