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2013 Rugby League World Cup preview: Can Kiwis defend their title?

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    New Zealand provided one of the greatest upsets in recent sporting history when they defeated Australia in the 2008 World Cup final at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

    Led by coach Stephen Kearney and rugby league mastermind Wayne Bennett, the Kiwis ambushed the Kangaroos 34-20 to take the coveted trophy back to New Zealand as World Cup champions for the very first time.

    New Zealand Kiwis
    RLIF World Ranking: 2
    Best Result: Champions (2008)
    2008 Finish: Champions
    2013 RLWC Odds: $4.25

    New Zealand has appeared in every single World Cup since the very first edition in 1954. It took 13 attempts for the Kiwis to finally be crowned champions, having previously failen at the final hurdle in 1988 and 2000.

    Currently ranked No. 2 in the world, the Kiwis backed up their 2008 RLWC win with a Four Nations title in 2010, again defeating Australia in the final in Brisbane.

    New Zealand will be without the services of Wayne Bennett at the 2013 RLWC, though the playing squad is significantly stronger than the team that took the field five years ago.

    Team Line-up (likely)

    1. Josh Hoffman
    2. Manu Vatuvei
    3. Krisnan Inu
    4. Dean Whare
    5. Jason Nightingale
    6. Kieren Foran
    7. Shaun Johnson
    8. Sam Kasiano
    9. Isaac Luke
    10. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
    11. Simon Mannering (c)
    12. Sonny Bill Williams
    13. Frank Pritchard

    14. Elijah Taylor
    15. Ben Matulino
    16. Frank-Paul Nu’uausala
    17. Alex Glenn

    Squad Members: Kevin Locke, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Bryson Goodwin, Thomas Leuluai, Jesse Bromwich, Sam Moa, Greg Eastwood

    The squad picked for the 2013 RLWC is the strongest Kiwi line-up in recent memory.

    It contains strike power right across the field – an intimidating forward pack and skillful backs complemented by an impressive spine that performed well together in this year’s ANZAC Test against Australia.

    In New Zealand’s only international this year, the scores were locked 6-all at the break before the Kangaroos ran away with it in the second half, however New Zealand went into that match with a host of stars out injured.

    Stephen Kearney has selected a mix of youth and experience containing a lot of big match exposure, including six players who took part in the 2013 NRL grand final.

    Key Player
    This choice may cop a bit of flak due to recent headlines, however there is no doubt that the most influential player for New Zealand during the 2013 World Cup will be Sonny Bill Williams.

    His return to rugby league this year was everything he would have hoped for, as he regularly starred for the Sydney Roosters side on their way to winning the premiership. This was no more evident than the final 20 minutes of the season, in which Williams put his stamp on the grand final.

    He has a fair share of fans, and just as many critics, but no one can dispute that Sonny Bill is an extremely talented footballer – a fact that was evident from his very first season back in 2004. It is not just a coincidence that SBW has tasted success everywhere he has been over the past few years.

    If Sonny performs at his best throughout the tournament, the Kiwis will go a long way towards defending their title. Another World Cup victory here will certainly put Williams in a category that very few before him have reached.

    Group B Fixtures and Opponents
    Vs Samoa @ Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington. Kick-off – Mon 28th Oct 6am AEDT
    Vs France @ Parc Des Sports, Avignon. Kick-off – Sat 2nd Nov 7am AEDT
    Vs Papua New Guinea @ Headingley Carnegie Stadium, Leeds. Kick-off – Sat 9th Nov 7am AEDT

    Key Match
    New Zealand is the clear favourite to top Group B of the tournament and is expected to win all three matches against Samoa, France and Papua New Guinea.

    The toughest encounter may come up against the French in front of a packed stadium in Avignon. France has troubled the Kiwis over the last decade, with New Zealand just edging the Chanticleers on numerous occasions.

    The two nations provided memorable Test matches in 2004 (24-20), 2005 (38-22) and 2007 (22-14), however the last clash between the two resulted in the World Champions thumping the tri-colours 62-12.

    All three of the Kiwis’ Group B opponents are expected to field vastly improved sides from 2008.

    RLWC 2013 Prospects
    Going into a World Cup for the first time as defending champions, there is an expectation that New Zealand will make the trip to Old Trafford on November 30.

    The Kiwis are brimming with talent which has produced a squad that is far stronger than the side that won in 2008.

    New Zealand perform significantly better in tournaments than they do in one-off Test matches, and the losing streak against the Kangaroos in the ANZAC Tests will have little influence in predicting their fortunes in this World Cup campaign.

    The Kiwis will have to address their poor record in the Northern Hemisphere though, in particular the fact that they have not beaten England in the UK since the start of this millennium. They will have to break that hoodoo if they are to go all the way.

    With this well balanced line-up, Stephen Kearney will be quietly confident that his men can go back-to-back and return to New Zealand still as World Cup champions.

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    The Crowd Says (88)

    • October 15th 2013 @ 12:52am
      Johnno said | October 15th 2013 @ 12:52am | ! Report

      They sure do. Put it this way that side i’d back to beat the 2013 Rabbitohs side any day of the week. I’ve left out Manly/Roosters as many kiwis in that side. Bunnies have NZ/Issac Luke to, but not many other kiwis. But I’d back this kiwi side to beat 2013 Bunnies, and the 2013 NSW Blues side. It would get pushed hard by QLD side, and maybe you’d back QLD on most days except in NZ. But one could argue due to combinatons etc, QLD side is stronger than the Australian side anyway.
      32 yr old Paull Gallen doesn’t worry the Kiwis, Hodges is a big blow, but Tate/Jennigs/Josh Morris are all capable and Hayne can go into centres/Wing or fullback. Thurston/Cameron Smith are all 5 years older now than 2008, as is Cronk.
      Hargraves and Kasiano,pritchard all physical, and Mannering is a solid workhouse, and a very good captain, much better than Benji Marshall. Foran is world class and would get a bench spot on the aussy side, him and Dale cherry evean’s can’t split em for a bench spot. But Cronk is a certainty anyway for starting spot, and Cherry-evans has no chance unseating cronk, Cronk is a better player with far longer list of credentials, state of origin and test caps, conenction with Thurston/Cameron Smith.
      SBW is the X-factor in the team a huge lift for them. Inglis has had a few injuries too. Kiwis have got better for mine in the last 5 years, not backwards. Matai would have been handy but he’s injured so won’t play for NZ/or Samoa, he hadn’t made his mind up, but is injured now anyway. Issac Luke has been awsome this year, some awsome statstics. Foran.Issac Luke,SBW, all need to stay fit, for the kiwis, hard to replace if there injured. Centres a bit light on Inu,a nd Dean Whare, but still competent, Inu is very talented player. Mannering can slot into centres if needed. Big Manu Vatevui will eat up alot of metres to, play as an extra prop. This kiwi side is a good side, I just hope they can all stay fit come semi-final or final time, then they can win it. They have the team. Eng/NZ do not need to fear the big 3. Kiwis can win it.
      That grand final, Foran won in 2011, and has grown, as have JWH and SBW after wins this year. A good kiwis side, they can win it.

      • October 15th 2013 @ 2:27pm
        jack said | October 15th 2013 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

        THERE IS ONLY ONE PROBLEM WITH THE KIWI TEAM (KEARNEY) UNLESS HE HAS BECOME MORE AGGRESSIVE THEY WILL NOT WIN, THE NZ LEAQUE JUST KEEP STICKING TO THE SAME OLD ROUTINE ITS A GREAT SIDE AND NEEDS A GOOD COACH
        JACK

        • October 25th 2013 @ 10:42pm
          guru said | October 25th 2013 @ 10:42pm | ! Report

          Kearney a lot older and considered a good coach by many including the broncos where heis currently the assistant coach.If the kiwis win the world cup he could possibly become a bronco coach and tim sheens sacked. Wayne Bennet has never been a aggressive coach.

      • October 21st 2013 @ 11:05pm
        Joe Kingman said | October 21st 2013 @ 11:05pm | ! Report

        1. Locke Better ball player than Hoffman. Can set up try’s with kiwis sweeping second man plays. Like Hohia use to. Justin Hodges would back this call also. If Hoffman could ball play out the back I would pick him.
        2. RTVS
        3. Mannering/Glenn
        4. Inu
        5. Vatuvei. Can win you a game. Great meter eater.
        6.Foz. His communication and direction will be the reason we win the world cup.
        7.Johnson. He is going to carve the Ozzies up because the amazing go forward from our pack.
        8.JWH. The key to our go forward.
        9. Luke. The man.
        10.Moa
        11 Pritchard
        12 Glenn
        13 SBW (let him roam wherever he wants)

        14 Bromwitch.
        15.Matalino/Kasiano
        16Eastwood (prop, 2nd row, lock, centre)
        17Taylor (2nd row, lock, hooker, centre)

        Our only weakness is in the centres. SKD loss is huge for us. What a great last 8 weeks he had with the Roosters after a shit first half of the season. Matai is a huge loss. Would of been nice to get Joey Leilua.

        I know we will win this World Cup. You should hear the way the Aussies are talking about Johnson & Foran causing a lot of damage because of our amazing forward pack lead by JWH. Then they talk about SBW on top of that as the X factor, something they don’t have. We got this.

    • October 15th 2013 @ 1:02am
      The eye said | October 15th 2013 @ 1:02am | ! Report

      It’s a great squad with finalist written all over it.Honestly believe a media beat up got Kasiano Dally M prop of the year last year,even at his own club he was no. 3.I’d have him on the bench behind Jessie B.and Sam Moa who have both had better seasons and have more to their games.Interesting to see what happens with Big Manu,too..getting expensively careless in his old age.Be shocked if they don’t play the Aussies in the final.

      • Roar Guru

        October 15th 2013 @ 9:35am
        Renegade said | October 15th 2013 @ 9:35am | ! Report

        Yeah i wouldn’t be surprised if Jesse Bromwich gets a spot ahead of Kasiano.

    • October 15th 2013 @ 7:15am
      Andy said | October 15th 2013 @ 7:15am | ! Report

      No It seems unlikely NZ will defend their title. I do not think Stephen Kearney is the right coach for the job.

      • October 15th 2013 @ 8:45am
        maximillian said | October 15th 2013 @ 8:45am | ! Report

        Whats wrong with Kearney? He has coached them to a WC win & a 4 Nations win as well. He has been the kiwi coach for 5 years & has also employed 1 of the most promising NRL coaches in Cleary as an assistant. If the Kiwis lose it wont be because of the coaching.

      • October 15th 2013 @ 11:30am
        Seb Vettel said | October 15th 2013 @ 11:30am | ! Report

        Kearny is an average coach… borderline useless… If they are to win they will have to win it on team spirit and adrenaline.

        • October 15th 2013 @ 11:41am
          Johnno said | October 15th 2013 @ 11:41am | ! Report

          Ivan Cleary is there as an assistant, so he will help out.

          • October 15th 2013 @ 2:09pm
            planko said | October 15th 2013 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

            Good choice of Assistant…. Kearney the coach of NZ like Mal is the “coach” of QLD

        • October 15th 2013 @ 4:16pm
          zug said | October 15th 2013 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

          Based on what? His time at the most disfunctional club (parra)? Kearney is a good coach who wasn’t ready for the off field issues at the eels.

    • October 15th 2013 @ 8:25am
      Pot Stirrer said | October 15th 2013 @ 8:25am | ! Report

      Its a good looking NZ team but i also would of thought Sam Moa would be better than FPN on the bench. Hard to see anything other than a NZ vs Australia final.

      • October 15th 2013 @ 8:43am
        maximillian said | October 15th 2013 @ 8:43am | ! Report

        I think Bromwich will be on the bench instead of FPN. He was near the best for the Kiwis in the ANZAC test & also last year. Id also put Leuluai on instead of Taylor as he can cover the halves/hooker role.

      • October 15th 2013 @ 9:00am
        Boomshanka said | October 15th 2013 @ 9:00am | ! Report

        I’ll go out now and say that it’ll be a Kiwis vs England Final at Old Trafford with the Kangaroos heading home after Wembley.

        The Aussie team is getting a little long in the tooth and with a resurgent England, the first game at Cardiff will be do or die for the kangaroos. Lose that and they’ll meet this kiwi pack at London in the semis.

        The English have a better self belief and playing at home (well Cardiff is just across the border) is a huge advantage.

        • Roar Guru

          October 15th 2013 @ 10:14am
          Renegade said | October 15th 2013 @ 10:14am | ! Report

          Boom,

          There’s a very real possibility of that occurring. The opening game of the tournament will be great guide.

          • October 15th 2013 @ 1:43pm
            Boomshanka said | October 15th 2013 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

            To me, I’d be happy with either;

            England v Kiwis
            Kiwis v Australia
            Australia v England

            and hell if a forth option gets to challenge for the final, I’d be ecstatic.

        • Columnist

          October 15th 2013 @ 11:42am
          Kris Swales said | October 15th 2013 @ 11:42am | ! Report

          England’s only chance is to topple the Aussies in the opening game – if they come up against NZ in the semis at Wembley, I predict a choke of epic proportions.

          • October 15th 2013 @ 4:19pm
            zug said | October 15th 2013 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

            True. Game 1 might be the best match of the world cup. Everything to lose in that game.

      • Roar Guru

        October 15th 2013 @ 9:36am
        Renegade said | October 15th 2013 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        I’d prefer Frank-Paul on the bench as he can play as a front rower or in the back row.

    • October 15th 2013 @ 9:00am
      maximillian said | October 15th 2013 @ 9:00am | ! Report

      Well summed up Renegade.

      The Kiwis have a really good record in tournaments & have won 3 of the last 6 major international tournaments as well as losing a final in golden point. That’s an excellent return when you consider the Kangaroos have always had a stronger team.

      This is the strongest Kiwi squad ever assembled so I m backing them to win back to back WC’s.

      • Roar Guru

        October 15th 2013 @ 9:39am
        Renegade said | October 15th 2013 @ 9:39am | ! Report

        Cheers Maxi.

        It is the strongest New Zealand side i’ve ever seen and they are certainly capable of going back to back.
        I’m expecting the matches between the big 3 to be some of the best we’ve seen in a long time.

    • October 15th 2013 @ 9:09am
      Wozza said | October 15th 2013 @ 9:09am | ! Report

      I’m tipping the kiwis to take it out on the back of an aging Aussie side and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Aussies didn’t make the final…
      Having said that the Bennett factor in 08 would have been huge ….
      I’m more than happy to be wrong though ….

      • October 15th 2013 @ 10:05am
        maximillian said | October 15th 2013 @ 10:05am | ! Report

        I think Australia will still make the final but if they didn’t, it would be great for the international game IMO. A big part of why international league hasn’t really flourished is because Australia is so much better than the rest. The gap is now closing so hopefully test matches can now become the pinnacle of RL again.

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