There was a lot of debate heading into the World Cup as to what was the point of the competition, with Australia seemingly streets ahead of every other nation, including England and New Zealand, and destined to once again pick up the trophy in a one-sided competition.
Of course, the Kangaroos were the eventual champions, beating England 6-0 in an exceptional final, which was certainly viewed as a morale-boosting result for the world of Rugby League outside Australia. However, the competition didn’t belong to Australia or England or even New Zealand, who were hugely disappointing throughout the campaign, it belonged to second-tier nations like Tonga and Fiji, who both reached the semi-final, with the latter progressing at the expense of 2008 champions, New Zealand.
There is definite scope for Fiji and Tonga to now be named as first tier nations, particularly after both beat New Zealand, who entered the competition amongst the favourites, on their way to the semi-finals.
— Channel NewsAsia (@ChannelNewsAsia) November 24, 2017
Fiji defeated New Zealand at the quarter-final stage, whilst Tonga progressed through the group stage having also dealt the Kiwis a crushing defeat in a dark competition for New Zealand Rugby League.
There is certainly a dark cloud over Rugby League in New Zealand after a poor World Cup, with things not going particularly well domestically for the New Zealand Warriors, who are struggling to make an impact in the NRL. Stephen Kearney’s side are not well fancied to perform well in 2018 off the back of a horrendous World Cup, with the Warriors priced at 50/1 with Betsafe, who also offer a range of bet in play options on a range of sports, including Rugby League.
Whilst there is a dark cloud over New Zealand’s Rugby League team, that is certainly not the case in Fiji or Tonga, who coincidently are on the rise as the Kiwis are on the decline.
Australia proved to be too powerful for Fiji in the semi-final, but the other contest, between England and Tonga was a whole different story, and perhaps the biggest indication that the tier two nations are ready to step up. Wayne Bennett’s Wall of White led for the entire contest, but Tonga’s spirited fight back in the last 10 minutes had English hearts in mouths, as Tonga got within two points of England, eventually losing 20-18.
Tonga’s sea of red support in Auckland that day will live long in the memory of anybody watching that game, and the noise generated by their support on that evening was the biggest indication we are yet to receive that international Rugby League could be about to become a lot more competitive.
Of course, the competition will probably live long in the memory as the last time we saw Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith all in the green and gold of Australia lifting the World Cup trophy, but realistically that was to be expected, but what wasn’t, was the emergence of Fiji and Tonga, two unlikely semi-finalists who are now knocking on the door