The Rugby League World Cup started with a match between Australia and England and on Saturday that is exactly how it will end too as the two rivals meet in the final of the tournament. Both sides have negotiated five matches to make it this far and now we are set for a tasty battle to decide the 2017 world champions.
Australia have made it to this final without losing a match and are a win away from successfully defending their title. England suffered one defeat which came in that opening match against Australia but have improved as the event has gone along.
When the tournament began Australia made it quite clear their intention was to up the ante each week and be at their best for this final showdown and that is exactly what they have achieved. They look to be hitting their best form now and you’ve got to think that is going to make them very tough to beat.
Australia have been fantastic defensively all tournament but since the knockout stages have begun they have got stronger and stronger offensively and that has been a very potent combination. If they continue to improve in both facets then this final is likely to be all about them and their only danger may just be themselves.
England looked a rusty outfit in the first match of the tournament but although they have not fully convinced at any stage their performances have got better each time. They produced their best outing of the entire tournament in the semi-final for around 70 minutes and if they can deliver that again they would have a chance.
They need to make sure that the final 10 minutes of that match did not leave a scar but in saying that it is very tough to hold out the pressure Tonga put on them throughout. In fairness to keep them out for as long as they did was a remarkable effort. The important thing for England here is to maximise all their attacking opportunities.
Australia have named an unchanged side for this final from the semi-final. All eyes will be on Valentine Holmes after his 11 try burst in the previous two matches.
England have been forced into two changes with Sean O’Loughlin and Josh Hodgson having to miss the final through injury. Ben Currie and James Roby come in from the start with Jonny Lomax coming in on the bench.
The tournament has the final it needed with the two best sides in the competition going at it. Their first meeting in the competition was a hard fought battle but given the rustiness of the two sides it lacked in quality. I don’t think this final will be a repeat of that.
I’m expecting it to be just as tight as the opening match but at the same time I fancy the quality to be much higher. Both these defences are as tough as teak and it will need something good to break them down. Ultimately I expect Australia to have a bit too much for this England side but in a really tough test match I don’t see the total points going beyond 40.
Australia have only conceded 16 points all tournament – that is in five matches. England haven’t been a lot worse. Prior to the last 10 minutes last week they had only conceded 40pts in almost five games and six of them were when they launched the kitchen sink on Australia and left themselves exposed to an interception try. I don’t see 40pts in this.
This is a World Cup final. Points are going to be at a premium. Both sides will know that and as a result if there are any penalties near the sticks I fully expect them to be kicked. This is not a night for running up the score. It is all about getting ahead and controlling the game. With that in mind covering both sides to open the scoring with a penalty looks the way to go.
Australia have only conceded three tries in this tournament but two of them have come down their right hand side. The first one of those was from Jermaine McGillvary and at 16/1 he looks a great price to go in first again. McGillvary is potent at this level and it might be that England kick to his side to try and negate the obvious attacking threat of Valentine Holmes and test him out defensively. McGillvary has opened the scoring in both knockout matches England have played here and I’ll pay to see if he can do it again.
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