Australia vs Fiji: Rugby League World Cup semi-final preview and prediction

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    For the second time in a, Australia and Fiji meet in the semi-finals of the Rugby League World Cup, but the result should be a lot closer when the sides do battle in Brisbane.

    It was an absolute mismatch when the sides faced off in at Wembley Stadium in London during the 2013 tournament.

    The Kangaroos ran away with a 64-0 victory, scoring 11 tries against a hapless Fijian outfit, who could do nothing to change the momentum of the match.

    But this has a different feel to it. Apart from the fact Jarryd Hayne is now representing the Bati, Fiji was never expected to make this stage of the tournament. They pulled off possibly the biggest upset in international rugby league history last week though, beating New Zealand in a tryless affair.

    Yet, if they are going to make the final, they need to pull off an even bigger upset against an Australian team who are on cruise control.

    The Kangaroos haven’t conceded a point since their second game of the tournament, against France, and that was a fluke effort from fullback Mark Kheirallah, which may go down at try of the tournament.

    Regardless, Australia’s defence has been on fire, with the only other points conceded coming in their 16-4 victory over England in the World Cup opener in Melbourne. The Kangaroos were rusty in that game and have struggled for offensive cohesiveness at other times, but are still the best team by a considerable distance.

    Mal Meninga’s men showed as much last week in the quarter-final, getting their best 17 back on the field for the first time since the opening game to put on an attacking masterclass against the hapless Samoa, scoring eight tries and 46 points.

    While Samoa hadn’t won a game, and Fiji are a better team than their Pacific Islands rivals, it’s still an ominous sign for the Bati, and the Kangaroos’ potential future final opponents, England or Tonga.

    The biggest problem for Fiji is containing the Australian spine. It’s the best in global rugby league, with Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Michael Morgan being joined by veteran captain Cameron Smith.

    There is no defensive line in the world who are going to have their say with those four players on the same park and when joined by a dynamic forward pack, it’s not hard to see why Samoa had so many problems last week.

    Yet, Fiji will back themselves. Last week they held an attack led by two of the most explosive players in the game – Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – tryless, conceding a single penalty goal in 80 minutes.

    While they didn’t score one themselves, they looked more likely for most of the game, spending plenty of time on the attack and bombing a couple of opportunities.

    If they can keep creating opportunities, capitalise and execute their plays, there is every chance they can hang with the hosts.

    Jarryd Hayne

    NRLPhotos/Ben Southall

    Jarryd Hayne will be the key. He has played a leading hand, but has been quite happy to create for teammates, working on his kicking and passing game. With decision making being fantastic, others in the Bati, including winger Suliasi Vunivalu and half Henry Raiwalui, have come into their own.

    Raiwalui has more tries than any other half in the tournament and Vunivalu has been incredibly dangerous right throughout.

    The problems lie up front. The pace of the game and their inability to control the ruck cost the Bati in 2013, while last week they managed to scramble enough to beat a Kiwi side that didn’t play to anything bordering their potential.

    If they can’t control the ruck, with Ashton Sims and Panthers forward Villiame Kikau leading the way, they will get monstered through the middle.

    What’s more, if the Bati don’t get a fast start or have to play from behind, you can almost write the match off in the first half.

    Prediction

    Australia will win.

    There will be doubters, and fair enough – most thought New Zealand were going to be in this semi-final – but the only genuine way the Kangaroos won’t win is being complacent. And it’s hard to see them doing that, knowing it’s the last World Cup for many of their older players.

    Fiji will be brave. They will defend their line with vigour, Jarryd Hayne will try to produce as he has done all tournament, and they will play out of their skin, as they have done since the first ball was kicked. But, ultimately, the Bati are going to come up short.

    However, this won’t be a repeat of 2013, so don’t be surprised if Fiji are still right in this game with 20 minutes to go.

    Australia by 12.

    Key game information

    Kick-off: 8pm (AEDT) 7pm (local)
    Venue: Brisbane Stadium, Queensland
    TV: Live, Seven Network
    Online: 7Live
    Betting: Australia $1.05, Fiji $11
    Overall record: Played 5, Australia 5, Fiji 0
    Last meeting: 2013 Rugby League World Cup – Australia 64-0 Fiji
    Referee: Gerard Sutton

    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. Tom Trbojevic 20. Josh Mansour 21. James Maloney

    Fiji
    1. Kevin Naiqama 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Taane Milne 4. Akuila Uate 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Jarryd Hayne 7. Henry Raiwalui 8. Ashton Sims 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Eloni Vunakece 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Brayden Wiliame 13. Tui Kamikamica
    Interchange: 14. Joe Lovodua 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Junior Roqica 17. Ben Nakubuwai 18. James Storer 19. Salesi Faingaa 20. Sitiveni Moceidreke 21. Pio Sokobalavu

    Don’t forget to join The Roar for our live blog and highlights of the match.

    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.