The draw for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup wasn’t without its complications. Having been originally scheduled for November 27, 2019, a postponement meant that the groups were finally confirmed at Buckingham Palace on January 16.
A decision by the organisers to place one Pacific-based side in each section also led to a complicated afternoon at the Palace while the media sideshow involving Prince Harry’s current movements rather took away the focus.
It wasn’t an ideal start to the biggest competition within the sport but the confirmed draw allows us to make some obvious conclusions.
Team to Beat
Australia are the defending champions and victory in England in 2021 would make it three titles in succession for the Kangaroos. Only three nations have ever won the Rugby League World Cup and Australia have claimed no fewer than eleven of the 15 editions to date. Taking those stats into account, it’s no surprise to see that early rugby league odds from bet365 put the Aussies down as clear, odds on favourites to make it 12 wins from 16.
History is in the Kangaroos’ favour but does form offer any hope to their rivals? The answer to that question is a hesitant ‘maybe’. A surprise, 12-16 loss at the hands of Tonga last November may offer faint hope to the Aussies’ main rivals but the favourites will be sure to raise their game when the big tournament arrives.
Behind the World Cup favourites, New Zealand, England and Tonga follow in that specific order. Those three teams were seeded and kept apart in the draw and, along with Australia, they are firmly expected to make up the schedule of semi-finalists.
England may be third favourites but they have won the World Cup on three previous occasions and, more crucially, they have that home advantage. New Zealand are the only other team to have won the trophy and the Kiwis’ solitary success came in 2008.
Tonga are very much an emerging nation as that recent victory over Australia confirms. The draw has been kind to all four of these teams and with the top two in each section progressing to the knockout stages, it would be a huge shock for either Australia, New Zealand, England or Tonga to miss out.
Australia may be the team to beat but England will fancy their chances on home soil and the host nation will soon have a chance to show their credentials. Later this year, England will welcome the Kangaroos for three internationals, starting at the University of Bolton Stadium on 31st of October and finishing at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium two weeks later.
When the teams meet in that Ashes series, the 2021 World Cup will just start to appear on the horizon. There will be plenty more rugby to play but victory for England will suggest that the tournament may not be the procession that many are expecting. Conversely, if the Kangaroos come through comfortably then a three-peat and a 12th World Title will look to be assured.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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