The Rugby League World Cup is now just days away and with all the squads named and the launch event done and dusted, everyone is now making their predictions on who will win the tournament at Old Trafford on November 19.
This competition is very different to previous ones, with at least five teams capable of reaching the final following the emergence of Tonga and Samoa, who will likely provide stern opposition to the big three of Australia, New Zealand and England.
On home soil, Shaun Wane’s England side have pressure, however, due to an unwanted injury list and the way the schedule pans out, which sees them face much-fancied Samoa in the tournament’s opening game, the hosts are being written off by many.
Speaking on the BBC 5 Live Rugby League Podcast, former player-turned-pundit Jon Wilkin believes that first match will likely define England’s World Cup.
He said: “In terms of England and what they will bring to this tournament, for me it hinges on St James’ Park, week one, against Samoa.
“If they can produce a great performance there, I can see England have got a nice route through to the semi-finals and once you’re there then anything can happen.
“But for me, a lot of the confidence and momentum everyone talks about starts with week one.
“I will always go back to a previous World Cup I played for England in and we played PNG in the first game. It was a tough game and we only just beat them and it was awkward.
“That really stalled all the momentum we felt that we had going into the tournament so it’s massive, that game at St James’ Park is going to be huge for England.”
The Samoan team, who are coached by former Salford boss Matt Parish, posseses some of the NRL’s finest talent, with many of their side featuring in last week’s NRL Grand Final between Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels.
For that reason they are being tipped by many, including Wilkin, who says that they are the favourites for the opening game.
“I think Samoa just, very mariginally, are the favourites,” he said. “Just because of the number of players they have had in the [NRL] Grand Final and the confidence and experience those guys will bring into the team.
“The issue for them will be the fluency, how those connections work and how quickly they develop that. For England, they might just out-manoeuvre Samoa, just in being a little bit slicker and more together, but I fancy Samoa, just.”
In terms of the outright tournament betting, Australia remain favourites, closely followed by New Zealand and then, interestingly, Samoa.
When quizzed about his tip for World Cup glory, Wilkin wasn’t shy in putting the Pacific Island nation at the top of his list.
“I hope England win the World Cup, it would be amazing, but I just fancy Samoa as a big outside chance of doing something really special.”