The Rugby League World Cup is just 24 hours away.
The opening game sees fifth favourites for tournament glory England take on Samoa, who are being tipped for a win over the host nation with the book makers making them favourites.
Nonetheless, as the tournament awaits, we have put together our predictions for the tournament.
Many are tipping England to lose tomorrow and subsequently finish second in the group. However, I believe England will defy the odds literally and beat Samoa. Why? Samoa may have a star-studded squad but they may enter the game a little undercooked with no warm up game. Many of their most important players come into the game on the back of the NRL Grand Final so this may leave the door open for England to get the better of them.
From here, England should have the beating of France and Greece as should Samoa with the two nations finishing first and second with France likely to finish third with some quality players in their squad. However, the presence of NRL star Lachlan Illas could see Greece stun the French.
Group B is seemingly a one horse race. World Cup holders Australia should have no trouble in winning all three of their group games and topping the group,
The bigger question is, who will finish second? Scotland have some star players, but are certainly underdogs behind Italy and Fiji. Fiji could be derailed by injury but tend to do well in World Cups getting to the last three semi-finals and this experience could lead them to the knockouts especially as their injury problems could be ameliorated after they get passed Australia in game one which is a free hit.
Like Group B, you’d expect New Zealand, the number one ranked team in the world at the moment, to finish top and win all their games.
The interesting battle is for second spot. You’d expect Jamaica to finish bottom but give it a valiant effort whilst Lebanon and Ireland battle it out for second spot. Mitchell Moses will be the key for the Cedars and is even backing his side to trouble the Kiwis. However, Ireland have plenty of quality such as George King, Richie Myler, James Bentley and Luke Keary and this could guide them to the knockouts.
1 New Zealand
Group D kicks starts with an interesting battle between Tonga and Papua New Guinea. Tonga are one of the tournament favourites whilst Papua New Guinea should trouble teams this World Cup and this game will shed light on how good they are.
Nonetheless, the two should have enough to finish in the top two of the group.
2 Papua New Guinea
3 Cook Islands
Should England finish top of their group as predicted, they will meet the runners-up of Group D likely to be Papua New Guinea. An interesting game but one you’d expect England to win at the DW Stadium.
In the first quarter-final, Australia will likely meet Ireland in which the Irish will produce a valiant effort but likely come up short.
Meanwhile, New Zealand will have the chance to avenge their 2017 quarter-final defeat to Fiji in Hull on Saturday night.
Lastly, Samoa will take on Tonga in the game of the round. Either could be winners of the tournament but one will exit the competition at this stage.
Both sides have class squads, but the presence of Jarome Luai as organiser and creator could just tip it for Samoa
This would set up a rematch between England and Samoa in the semi-finals and this time Samoa, now with momentum, could have the beating of Shaun Wane’s side with their NRL Grand Final experience proving vital.
Who will join them in the final? Australia are the favourites, but New Zealand are the World number one ranked team and have more experience of playing together and I believe this could see them emulate the shock final result of 2008 to ensure Australia miss out on the final.
It would be great to see a team like Samoa in the final, but they might not quite have the ability to win the tournament against a team with the international experience of New Zealand who have been playing together for a while.
Player of the tournament: Nelson Asofa-Solomona
It’s rare to see forwards get the credit they deserve, so it would be great to see one be the Player of the Tournament.
Asofa-Solomona was mesmeric against Leeds last week and if he can maintain that form in the tournament, he could be irrepressible and lead New Zealand to the trophy. A dark horse for the award, but it would be great to see someone like him recognised.
Top Try Scorer: Josh Addo-Carr
A lightning quick winger, being on the outside of Latrell Mitchell will also come with plenty of chances which could see the Canterbury man score the most tries in the tournament.
What next for England?
A semi-final appearance wouldn’t be a bad starting spot for Shaun Wane’s England but from there it is vital that the former Wigan boss invests in the exciting young players England have at the moment who could finally deliver the World Cup in 2025.