Predictable RLWC quartet set for thrilling uncertainty

Then there were four. After almost a month of international rugby league we are left with the four teams everyone might have reasonably predicted: England, Australia, New Zealand and Samoa.

The tournament really heats up now, after glimpses of what we might expect, during two hard-fought quarterfinals. New Zealand struggled to overcome Fiji and Samoa narrowly escaped with a victory over their fierce rivals Tonga, with both games producing the intensity and competitiveness that is key to truly entertaining fans of any sport.

Fiji came out blazing, as they had in their group match against Australia. They caught the Kiwis off guard in building a 12-0 lead, which was narrowed to 12-6 by halftime. It was an impressive performance, but the class of New Zealand won through at the end, with Fiji running out of fire late.

The much-anticipated battle between Samoa and Tonga contained all the passion and ground rattling contact expected of it. In the end it was the Panthers connection, with crucial tries to Jarome Luai and Brian To'o, as well as a perfect three from three conversions from Stephen Crichton, that actually proved the difference in the three-tries-a-piece arm wrestle. The message out of the game? Everyone should beware of the sleeping giants of Samoa.

England and Australia advanced much more comfortably against Papua New Guinea and Lebanon respectively, but the Kangaroos were not as convincing as the 48-4 scoreline might have suggested. Australia are still not performing like the well-oiled machine we expect to see wearing green and gold jerseys. They are a sum of many moving pieces, with a lack of cohesiveness that hasn't really been tested in this tournament to date. It should be tested next weekend when they take on the Kiwis.

New Zealand versus Australia could quite easily have been the final, as it has been many times previously. Thanks to the tournament structure, England have been protected from facing either side until the decider, with the Antipodeans facing up for the privilege of playing them. Many might suggest that this semifinal will in effect decide the championship, but it may not be that simple. Neither team has found top form, with the Kiwis struggling to dominate lesser opponents and the Australians looking a little lost. It sets up a fascinating battle in the early hours of Saturday morning [AEDT].

The Kiwis look to be stuck in third gear, while the Kangaroos haven't worked out whether they are driving a manual or an automatic. Australia skipper James Tedesco is at his scheming best, but the rest of his backline look like a group of talented individuals, not the formidable unit they should be. The Kiwis appear to be having similar issues and it will be the side that gets their act together best, that will advance to the final. On paper New Zealand still look like a more balanced team, but the paper goes out the window once the first ball is kicked.

On the other side of the draw, Samoa are presented with a chance to wipe out the humiliation of their 60-6 group round pounding at the hands of England. They were caught flat-footed in that first game of the tournament, embarrassing themselves with their efforts, particularly in defence.

One thing we know about the Polynesian culture is the immense sense of pride they have in their performance when representing their homelands. The players will have been stewing over that loss ever since and looking forward to a chance at retribution. England can expect a far more committed effort from the men in blue, and will have to really be on their game to advance to the final. Samoa coach Matt Parish knows the past is not a concern for his team.

"The tournament was never about the first game, it was about the last game," Parish said after the quarterfinal win.

"You guys (journalists) made it about the first game.

"We were never going to be at our best, it was always about building through the tournament. I've been through it numerous times.

"England were unreal and we were pretty ordinary, what more can we say about it? We've moved on."

The Rugby League World Cup so far has been a festival of inclusiveness and a chance for other nations to demonstrate their pride and showcase how far they have advanced. You don't have a World Cup without the involvement of as many international teams as possible.

The critics will mock the standard of the competition to this point, but regardless, we are in for three riveting clashes to complete the tournament. The four best rugby league teams in the world will battle it out for the code's ultimate international prize, and no one can honestly say they know how the next two weeks will pan out.