The knockout stages of the Rugby League World Cup begins on Friday when the tournament hosts Australia take on Samoa for a place in the semi-final next week. The home side are widely expected to progress but they should not take the islanders for granted.
Both sides had good run outs in their three group matches but really I think everyone knows the competition begins properly here and hopefully this is the first of a number of competitive games to end the event with.
You would be pushing it to suggest that Australia have been flawless in this tournament. In fact you would be lying because they haven’t. They showed plenty of rust in their opening match against England but got the job done late on and then while rotating their squad they ran out comfortable, if not convincing, winners against France and Lebanon.
Australia haven’t quite been cohesive in attack yet in this tournament. That might be down to rotation or it might be something more substantial, we may only find out in this match, but there is certainly no criticising their defence. Even with all the personnel changes they have only conceded 10 points in the competition thus far. That is in three matches.
It is a quirk to this tournament that a side can fail to win any of its group matches but still make it to the knockout stages and that is exactly what Samoa have done. They lost their opening two matches to New Zealand and Tonga and could only manage a disappointing draw with Scotland last week but that was enough to see them through.
An area of concern for the Samoan side going into this match has to be the physicality of the group they have been in. They have had some real macho match ups against New Zealand and Tonga in particular and unlike Australia they have not had the luxury of making wholesale changes each week. It remains to be seen what is left in their tank.
Australia have used their squad in the group thus far but the key men such as Michael Morgan, Copper Cronk, Valentine Holmes and David Klemmer are all in place. James Maloney and Cameron Munster miss out completely.
Samoa will recall Ben Roberts for this match. Joseph Paulo will begin the match from the bench but in Leeson Ah Mau and Frank Pritchard the Samoans are certainly not going to lack for physicality up the middle.
I think Australia will win the match. We would be going into biggest World Cup shocks of all time stratosphere if they don’t but I’m less convinced about whether they cover a 34pt head start when it is simply all about winning and making sure you play again next week.
It might even be that if Australia are cruising in this match that they ease up and save something for next week where they are guaranteed a physical battle. Samoa haven’t scored many points in this tournament but they haven’t been opened up very often and with Australia’s cohesiveness in attack lacking a little I fancy Samoa’s losing cause will see them stay within 34pts.
Back Samoa (+34) to beat Australia for a 4/10 stake at 2.00 with Ladbrokes