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Mad Monday: World Cup quarterfinals building to be best ever

Riley Pettigrew Roar Guru

By Riley Pettigrew, Riley Pettigrew is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger

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46 Have your say

    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.

    If you could choose from any and every NRL player in the competition, who would you pick in your rugby league dream team? Let us know with our team picker right here, and be sure to share it with all your league-loving mates.

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    The Crowd Says (46)

    • November 13th 2017 @ 6:02am
      Ratu Tunisau said | November 13th 2017 @ 6:02am | ! Report

      Its on… Quarter FINALS!!! Southern Hemisphere smashing it… Fiji , Tonga, PNG and Samoa are all out there for the prize,, Underestimate them and you’ll be punished. LET THE FINALS BEGIN ?

      • November 13th 2017 @ 11:30am
        Fiji said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:30am | ! Report

        Yep, can’t wait!

      • November 13th 2017 @ 11:36am
        Fred said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

        If PNG can upset England, we’d see a PNG v Tonga semi-final.

        Either PNG v Tonga or England v Tonga would be great to watch, for different reasons.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 6:12am
      Womblat said | November 13th 2017 @ 6:12am | ! Report

      This tournament has really surprised me. The pre-game war cries and quality and pride have been awesome. Maybe not NRL level in terms of skill and science but everywhere else is better.

      Wouldn’t surprise me to see a NZ vs Tonga Grand Final. Wouldn’t disappoint either.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 6:55am
      loosehead said | November 13th 2017 @ 6:55am | ! Report

      So England, New Zealand and Ireland win two games each and Samoa draws one game only. England, New Zealand and Samoa go through to the quarterfinals while Ireland does not, how does that work?

      • November 13th 2017 @ 7:36am
        Raugeee said | November 13th 2017 @ 7:36am | ! Report

        Samoa were in a much tougher pool, Pool C & D were organised so that Fiji and PNG would get to the quarters. There were only 14 teams in the tournament, impossible to have 4 equal Pools where the top 2 go through.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 7:47am
          loosehead said | November 13th 2017 @ 7:47am | ! Report

          By organised do you mean “rigged”? I just don’t see how Ireland can win two games finish second in their pool while Samoa finish third in theirs and they progress and Ireland does not, it must be a real kick in the guts to Ireland after being one of the better performing sides in this tournament.

          • November 13th 2017 @ 8:04am
            Peter Phelps said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

            Yes, the pool system is rigged. Its rigged to give Tier two teams like Ireland a hope in h.ell of reaching the quarters. Without such rigging they would have no chance against the massive skills difference in the two tiers.

            If Ireland aren’t good enough to win a tier 2 group outright then they are not good enough to progress.

            • November 13th 2017 @ 8:14am
              Raugeee said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:14am | ! Report

              That’s right Peter. If they want to have an 8 team quarter final from a 14 team comp, somebody is going to ‘lose out’. Maybe 14 is too many teams. In a 12 team tournament there could be 4 Pools of 3 with Oz, Eng, NZ, Tonga the big 4. Top 2 go through from each group. USA & Wales the most likely to be culled.

              • Roar Guru

                November 13th 2017 @ 8:25am
                Michael Keeffe said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:25am | ! Report

                Alternatively they should make it a 16 team competition and have four pools of four with the top two from each going through. It could be a different combination but something like the below

                Pool A – Australia, Fiji, Cook Islands, Scotland
                Pool B – New Zealand, Samoa, Wales, Canada
                Pool C – Tonga, PNG, Italy, France
                Pool D – England, Lebanon, Ireland, USA

                Canada & Cook Islands are the two teams added off the top of my head but obviously there would be a qualification process to go through.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 10:07am
                Big Daddy said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

                Stop it Michael – your talking too much sense. This is the organizing committee that don’t want matches in cities that make sense and obviously have the eligibility rules worked out to a tee.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 8:48am
                Raugeee said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

                Ok – that works – stretching the quality a bit thin – but I enjoy the struggles of the lesser lights.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 10:07am
                Peter Phelps said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

                I would like the world cup use an extended knockout competition like they do for the English Challenge Cup. Every country is in and competes until knocked out. Bottom half of the league rankings play round 1, then the next quarter come in for round 2 and so on.

                Would be great and gives the real minnow nations a go.

            • November 13th 2017 @ 9:10am
              loosehead said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

              You will have to excuse my ignorance as I have obviously stuck my head into too many scrums but it seems illogical to me that a side that wins two games and another that effectively wins no games that the side with no wins gets rewarded. Regardless of the make up of the competition surely common sense states that if you win more games then you are the better team.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 9:23am
                KingCowboy said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

                Every negative comment by a Rugby fan puts a smile on my face. Keep them coming buddy!

              • November 13th 2017 @ 9:31am
                loosehead said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

                I’m sorry Cowboy, I don’t see how these are negative comments just an enquiry into how the make up of the World cups rewards sides that don’t win games. I’ve been watching all the games and Ireland have been very impressive and their winger with the top knot (cant remember his name) has been one of the players of the tournament.

              • Roar Guru

                November 13th 2017 @ 9:41am
                Sleiman Azizi said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

                Teams were seeded according to world rankings and the better ranked nations pooled together in Groups A & B.

                As a result, more teams from those two groups were given the opportunity to advance to the quarter finals.

                Winning in a weaker group was not considered to be as indicative of strength as pre-tournament ranking.

                Obviously Ireland showed that that isn’t necessarily the case and the next World Cup will rectify that with four groups of four.

                Hope that explains things.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 10:25am
                Fiji said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

                All pools are not equal – Samoa’s pool much tougher (going off rankings) than Ireland’s.

                But yes a 16 team cup with 4 groups of 4 would be much more straight forward – I believe they might be doing that next time?

                But I agree, Ireland is unlucky. I tipped them to be one of the worst teams, and Wales to be strong. Got that totally wrong!

      • Roar Guru

        November 13th 2017 @ 1:14pm
        Riley Pettigrew said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

        Yes, not exactly great. You would think they should’ve determined the final two places based on F/A from A3, B3, C2 and D2 which would mean Ireland and Italy go through. From 2021, the World Cup will expand to 16 nations with top two from each pool going through. The RLIF will adjust seeding so that the pools are more evenly matched meaning that we won’t see Australia and England in the same pool.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 1:45pm
          matth said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

          At least a playoff between A3/C2 and B3/D2 would have been fairer.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 7:31am
      Raugeee said | November 13th 2017 @ 7:31am | ! Report

      Watching PNG completely demolish USA – I couldn’t help thinking they must be some chance against England. They did seem to have poor ball security, they didn’t have to use much structure as they just burst through would be tackles, they did show incredible speed and strength throughout. Any 72-0 win at international level can’t be scoffed at. What would England have beaten USA by? Surely not much more than that. England will need to be at their professional best, and hope PNG doesn’t get all the 50/50 calls. In reality I would have to think that England will tough it out by 8 points.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 7:50am
        Jimmmy said | November 13th 2017 @ 7:50am | ! Report

        Raugee, I am really worried by the lack of respect the Kumuls have for holding onto the footy. If they can put in one game where they have a decent completion rate anything can happen , because they will give it everything. If they keep disrespecting the footy though the Poms will be gifted the game.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 8:08am
          Raugeee said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:08am | ! Report

          Yeah – it’s a big minus. The humid Port Moresby conditions probably didn’t help. I am sure Wayne Bennett is not taking this game lightly. We could be in for a cracker – absolutely contrasting styles.

        • Roar Guru

          November 13th 2017 @ 9:46am
          Nat said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

          That’s just the way these guys play. Think NZ a few years back. It’s no where near the polish of NRL or even good Q Cup teams but when it comes off… Brute strength, speed and instinct. It is an advantage for them to pay all 3 pool games at home so I hope they don’t get overawed coming to Australia because they are fun to watch.

          • November 13th 2017 @ 10:17am
            Glenn said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

            I’m a little lost by your comment ‘or even good Q Cup teams’. Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t PNG win the Q Cup?

            • Roar Guru

              November 13th 2017 @ 10:36am
              Nat said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:36am | ! Report

              Sure. In Q Cup, teams like Easts, Redcliffe and Sunshine Coast (or Penrith from what I seen GF day) are slick, professional teams running NRL-like plays with NRL players-in-waiting. PNG won (well) this year but these teams are always there-abouts because of their relationship with NRL clubs.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 8:31am
        ??PlayerDad said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

        If England can’t control the pace of the game then they will pack their bags this weekend. PNG want a fast game that opens up the field. It’s the Pacific style.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 8:03am
      Paul Nicholls said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:03am | ! Report

      It’s been a very good tournament so far. I think they should be playing on Thursdays and/or Mondays as well. It would be great if they could get to 16 teams so there are none of these weird groupings – Cook Island, Russia perhaps? I’m loving the Islander war cries and the Fijian singing.

      • Roar Guru

        November 13th 2017 @ 1:28pm
        Riley Pettigrew said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

        Playing games on Thursday or Monday would give a massive ratings boost but I don’t necessarily know if it would help crowds. The World Cup will expand to 16 from 2021, Cook Islands and Canada will likely join the current nations.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 8:54am
      souvalis said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

      People keep telling me how weak the Tongan halfs are..but they were pretty darn good on the was Konnie Hurrell,man of the match for mine…

      • November 13th 2017 @ 10:50am
        Fiji said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:50am | ! Report

        Tui Lolohea was a great buy by the Tigers

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