Australia have dominated world rugby league throughout the professional era, from the World Club Challenges, through to the international stage, where they have won three of the last four World Cups since 1995. The 15th Rugby League World Cup is just around the corner, with Australia set to host the event alongside New Zealand and Papua New Guinea in late 2017, where the Green and Gold will be looking for back-to-back titles following their 2013 success.
Not even Shaun Johnson at the peak of his powers could stop Australia steamrolling New Zealand in the 2013 final, with the Kangaroos running out 34-2 winners over their rivals at Manchester’s Old Trafford Stadium. However, 2017 could pose a different threat for Australia, now coached by the legendary Mal Meninga, with England shaping a squad with some of the finest overseas NRL players, combined with Super League’s stars.
As always, the Kangaroos are entering the tournament as red-hot favourites, with the latest odds pricing them up at 2/5 to retain their trophy. There will be an early indication to whether England can challenge Meninga’s side, as the rival nations go head-to-head in the opening game of the tournament on October 27th.
Wayne Bennett, an Australian and former national coach, will lead England into battle in the Southern Hemisphere later this year, where he has some fine choices to pick from for his first World Cup with his adopted nation. It is likely that Sean O’Loughlin will be named as England’s captain for the World Cup, with his experience set to be essential. However, the Wigan Warrior will be assisted by some of the NRL’s most high-profile players.
James Graham and Sam Burgess are likely to be on-field leaders for Bennett’s side, whilst St George Illawarra Dragons’ skipper Gareth Widdop is set to be named in the England squad. Sam Burgess’ twin brothers, Tom and George, will offer the squad some serious size, whilst Josh Hodgson will hope to carry his NRL form onto the international stage.
Super League’s best will also offer Bennett a selection headache, with runaway leaders, Castleford Tigers, likely to be well represented for England, with Luke Gale, Zak Hardaker and Greg Eden – the division’s top try scorer with 30 already this season – all showing form that will see them picked.
Leeds Rhinos’ Ryan Hall, the country’s top try scorer, is likely to be involved on the wing, whilst his club team-mate Kallum Watkins will bring some quality to the right-edge from centre. However, England’s key heading into the World Cup could be Wigan’s George Williams, who has been linked with a host of NRL clubs recently. The 22-year old will offer a more exciting option to Bennett in the halves, and something completely different to Widdop and Gale, who are more likely to organise the team.
The World Cup in 2017 is an exciting prospect, with a feeling that anything could happen. Australia are rightly favourites, as they have dominated world rugby for over two decades, but there is a real possibility that England and Bennett could spoil the party later this year, if they can find the balance between their NRL contingent and the England-based stars.