The Rugby League World Cup reaches its penultimate weekend, with the finalists to be decided in two mouth-watering international clashes. Long and bitter rivals Australia and New Zealand start the semifinals off with a battle between two sides who have yet to hit top form in the tournament. They'll have to sort themselves out quick-smart or be prepared to pack their bags for a long flight home.
In the other semifinal we have two teams that have already met in the tournament, with England hoping to reprise their dominant opening game victory over Samoa. Contrarily Samoa believe they have been building nicely since that first-up shock and will be primed to show the hosts their very best rugby league, in what they promise will be a much tighter contest.
It makes for an exciting weekend of international rugby league.
Australia 16-14 New Zealand
Saturday 12th November 6:45am (AEDT)
Elland Road, Leeds
Australia: 1. James Tedesco 4. Valentine Holmes 8. Latrell Mitchell 10. Jack Wighton 9. Josh Addo-Carr 7. Cameron Munster 14. Nathan Cleary 5. Jake Trbojevic 3. Ben Hunt 18. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 17. Angus Crichton 21. Liam Martin 24. Isaah Yeo Bench: 2. Daly Cherry-Evans 11. Cameron Murray 13. Patrick Carrigan 20. Harry Grant Reserves: 6. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 16. Reuben Cotter
New Zealand: 1. Joseph Manu 2. Ronaldo Mulitalo 4. Peta Hiku 21. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Dylan Brown 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Brandon Smith 10. James Fisher-Harris 16. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 12. Kenny Bromwich 13. Joseph Tapine Bench: 11. Isaiah Papali'i 14. Kieran Foran 17. Briton Nikora 20. Isaac Liu Reserves: 15. Moses Leota 19. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Australia took care of Lebanon in their quarterfinal, but really could have been more convincing. Still, they have dominated the scoreboard throughout the tournament and have been building nicely to this long-awaited semifinal clash with the Kiwis. New Zealand looked to be in trouble early last week against the flying Fijians, but managed to restore order in the second half. They too have yet to play their best football in the tournament. It will be interesting to see which team clicks into gear first.
The Kiwis have such a wealth of big-name forwards that they still look intimidating even without Jared Waerea-Hargreaves who is out with a hamstring strain. The Australians will have to contain a ball-carrying barrage consisting of James Fisher-Harris, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, the Bromwich brothers and Joseph Tapine, with Isaiah Papali'i, Isaac Liu and possibly Moses Leota coming off the bench to continue the onslaught. The question is: can the Kiwi halves combine with the backs well enough to take advantage of the forward momentum this pack should achieve?
There is very little doubt, that should they hold their own in the battle up front, the Kangaroos have the halves and outside backs to score tries, providing the rust has been brushed off their combinations.
This promises to be the game of the tournament to date and one that really could go either way. Australia's supreme self-confidence could be enough to carry them to victory, as long as they aren't completely trampled by the New Zealand forwards.
Tip: Australia by 8
England v Samoa
Sunday 13th November 1:30am
Emirates Stadium, London
England: 1. Sam Tomkins 2. Tommy Makinson 3. Kallum Watkins 4. Herbie Farnworth 14. Dominic Young 6. Jack Welsby 7. George Williams 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Michael McIlorum 18. Chris Hill 11. Elliott Whitehead 12. John Bateman 13. Victor Radley 10. Luke Thompson 15. Morgan Knowles 17. Mike Cooper 20. Mike McMeeken 21. Marc Sneyd 24. Kai Pearce-Paul
Samoa: 1. Joseph Suaalii 2. Taylan May 25. Tim Lafai 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To'o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Anthony Milford 15. Royce Hunt 21. Fa'amanu Brown 10. Junior Paulo 11. Ligi Sao 12. Jaydn Su'A 23. Oregon Kaufusi 8. Josh Papali'i 17. Martin Taupau 20. Chanel Harris-Tavita 22. Kelma Tuilagi 16. Spencer Leniu 26. Ken Sio
It has been well-documented that England started this tournament with a 60-6 thrashing of a disinterested Samoa. But that is history according to the Samoans, the scoreboard starts at 0-0 in this intriguing second semifinal. Samoa have certainly improved through the tournament, but their resolve will once again be fully tested by an England side that hasn't put a foot wrong at home. Anything short of a full commitment in defence and Samoa will be in for another long night.
England will start this game with a lot of confidence, gained from their performances in the group matches. Last week they dismissed a very determined Papua New Guinea side with winger Tommy Makinson crossing for five tries while Dom Young grabbed another on the other wing. Their game is built on forwards making the early gains, before the ball is thrown wide. With Tom Burgess, Elliott Whitehead, John Bateman and Victory Radley, their pack is bristling with NRL-grade talent and experience. George Williams at halfback is one of the tournaments great schemers and game managers.
It may be history, but it is still hard to see Samoa bouncing back from that opening performance. They will definitely come out firing, but if England manage to edge in front, the Samoans will have the doubts dancing around in their heads.
Tip: England by 12.