Competition nears end as the final four are decided
The quarter-finals of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup went as expected, save for one momentous upset. Australia dominated Samoa 46-0, Tonga narrowly beat Lebanon 24-22 and England, despite a performance riddled with ball-handling errors, defeated tournament co-hosts Papua New Guinea 36-6. The standout match of the weekend, however, was Fiji’s 4-2 victory over New Zealand. Despite the fact that this match was only the second try-less match in Rugby League World Cup history, the defensive performances given by both sides were a testament to the quality of the modern game. More importantly, this match witnessed a real twist in how the tournament might play out. Before the Cup even began this year, pundits were consistently talking about whether Australia or New Zealand would win the tournament; Fiji’s success in knocking out New Zealand, however, brings some real excitement to the event. Three of the four semi-finalists coming from the Southern Hemisphere is no great surprise after the dominant group stage performances we saw earlier in the tournament, yet the lack of a New Zealand team in the final four may just mean that the final comes down to a contest between Australia and England.
Following on from the quarter-final results, the two semi-finals consist of Australia vs Fiji and England vs Tonga. Although Australia would be expected to win easily against Fiji, the match could go either way – as shown by Fiji’s victory over New Zealand. England, on the other hand, face a Tonga side which only narrowly beat Lebanon, who were the lowest-ranked team heading into the competition and a side that England defeated 29-10. Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that Tonga also beat New Zealand 28-22 in the group stages. I would be very surprised if the result of the two semi-finals wasn’t a final between Australia and England, yet Fiji are a real wildcard at this point and Tonga could cause an upset too.
The tournament so far, then, has shown the Southern Hemisphere’s dominance in Rugby League. This is not a new development, but such dominance usually rests on the achievements of Australia and New Zealand. This Rugby League World Cup has shown that the All Blacks, ranked No.2 in the world, are not quite as invincible as the Australian national side and that there is real talent in the other Southern Hemisphere teams too. England have so far been quite fortunate in their run of games, having only faced a real challenge in their loss to Australia; it is expected that England should make the final and any other result would be a disappointment for a team that has failed to shine so far at this tournament, aside from star winger Jermaine McGillvary.
The Rugby League World Cup Semi-Finals will take place on 24th (Australia vs Fiji) and 25th November (England vs Tonga). The Final is on 2nd December.