Having won the Rugby League World Cup 11 times in their illustrious history, it was unsurprising to see Australia as the firm favorites going into this year’s major tournament. The Kangaroos have made a bright start to the competition and many will be wondering if any other nation can deny Australia yet another world title.
Ominous Signs For Rivals
Australia put down markers with their first two games in the delayed tournament with convincing wins over both Fiji and Scotland. The Kangaroos, who are currently priced at -225 to win the title in the Rugby League World Cup 2023 odds, might well have been expecting a tricky test when they faced Fiji on the opening day of the competition. However, head coach Mel Meninga saw his side set the tone for the tournament with a 42-8 win at Leeds’ Headingley Stadium.
Pre-tournament Fiji was considered a potential outsider to lift the trophy, so to win in such convincing fashion against the Pacific Islanders will have gone out as a warning to others looking for glory this year.
If Fiji were brushed aside in Leeds, what hope did Scotland have as they went up against the Kangaroos in Coventry? It was like the two teams were playing different sports as the Bravehearts were thrashed 84-0 in the West Midlands. Australia scored no less than 15 tries that evening, with star winger Josh Addo-Carr going over four times.
Canterbury Bulldogs winger Addo-Carr has the ability to be one of the stars of the tournament this autumn in England. The former Wests Tigers and Melbourne Storm flyer have an electric pace and finishing ability that will have opposition defensive coaches up at night. With six tries in his first two games of the tournament, Addo-Carr will take some stopping to be denied finishing the competition as the top try scorer.
With a physical pack in front of him and half-backs capable of creating opportunities from seemingly nowhere, it will take something special to deny Australia what would be a ninth title in the last 10 World Cups.
New Zealand In The Mix
As second favorites to lift the trophy, New Zealand is hoping they can repeat their efforts of 2008 and win a second World Cup in their history. The Kiwis managed to beat Australia in the final in the Kangaroos’ own backyard in Brisbane that year, in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.
Like their rivals Australia, New Zealand has made a positive start to the World Cup with convincing wins in their opening two games of the tournament. The Kiwis scored an impressive 102 points in those first two outings, as they eased past Lebanon 34-12, before a 68-6 trashing of Jamaica.
With Ireland also in Pool C, some might question whether the lack of a real test for New Zealand in the group stages will hinder their chances in the knockout stages.
However, this is an experienced Kiwi side that has an abundance of talented players from the NRL in their ranks. Head coach Michael Maguire knows exactly the challenge that lies ahead of his side in the knockouts and the former Wigan Warriors boss will be looking to manage his players’ game-time before the crucial encounters to come.
New Zealand has its own try machine in the form of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who might well be set to battle it out with Addo-Carr for the competition’s top try scorer.
The New Zealand Warriors star scored four tries in the victory over the Jamaicans and his finishing ability will also see him as a potential superstar for the tournament. The Kiwis do have the ability to beat any team on their day but whether they can produce the goods when it matters remains to be seen.
England Looking To Home Comforts
Three-time runners-up England will be hoping the advantage of playing at home can see them deliver what would be a first World Cup title this year. The men in white did manage to reach the final of the last major tournament in Australia but suffered an agonizing 6-0 defeat to the Kangaroos in Brisbane.
The likes of Kallum Watkins, John Bateman, Ryan Hall, and Tom Burgess featured in that final and still remain in the current England squad. They might well be using the heartbreak of that final defeat at Brisbane Stadium as added motivation to try and help England get their hands on the trophy for the very first time.
The English hit the ground running in this year’s tournament, winning against another supposed contender in Samoa at Newcastle’s St James’ Park. There were some suggestions the Pacific Islanders could spoil the party up in the North East, however, Samoa looked undercooked as they suffered a 60-6 hammering by the hosts.
That result in Newcastle will have given head coach Shaun Wane and his side plenty of confidence as they look to grow into the competition. A 42-18 win over France in their second game was another impressive performance from the hosts as they look to build up some winning momentum.
England and New Zealand have strong claims to win the 2023 World Cup but both will know that Australia will have to be knocked off their perch if they are to achieve something special in the final on November 19 at Old Trafford.