Roos Ready For World Cup Opener

Image courtesy of news.com.au
Johnathan Thurston will start at five-eighth for the Kangaroos. Image courtesy of news.com.au
Australia has no choice but to hit the ground running if it hopes to get a saloon passage through to the final of the Rugby League World Cup next month. The winner of Saturday night’s (AEST) match against England will more than likely top Group A, avoiding a probable semi-final showdown with title-holder New Zealand.

England went away to South Africa for a high-altitude training camp prior to the tournament but you can only think the players must still have been suffering from a lack of oxygen given their 15-14 loss to Italy in the team’s final warm-up match last weekend. It was as big a shock as you’ll see in a rugby league international (although France did its best to match it by going down to the USA).

Regardless, the home nation has plenty of talent at its disposal. You only have to look at the havoc wreaked by the Burgess brothers in the NRL this season to be aware of the forward strength, plus the fact Bulldogs prop James Graham couldn’t find a spot in the 17. In saying that, there is speculation Graham was amongst a group of half-a-dozen England players who broke an alcohol ban after the Italy match. One of those, Eels recruit Gareth Hock, has been expelled from the squad by coach Steve McNamara. George, Sam and Tom Burgess have all been selected, while Gareth Widdop has been named after a remarkable recovery from a hip injury sustained midway through the year.

Plenty of eyes will be on fullback Sam Tomkins, who will move to the New Zealand Warriors from Wigan on a record transfer fee for rugby league. The 24-year-old has been mentioned in the same breath as fellow lightweight No. 1 Billy Slater, but he has a long way to go to match the accomplishments of the Melbourne Storm custodian.

Australia hasn’t had a warm-up game in the Old Dart and the team last played prior to the NRL decider when a Prime Minister’s XIII destroyed Papua New Guinea 50-10. The green and gold did defeat New Zealand 32-12 in the Anzac Test earlier this year, while the majority of the squad was part of Queensland’s eighth straight Origin series win. Cronulla’s wrecking ball, Andrew Fifita, will make his international debut after a series of standout performances. He’s the only new face in the team and the only prop on the bench. Brent Tate was a slightly surprising inclusion ahead of Michael Jennings and Josh Morris in the centres.

England or Great Britain hasn’t beaten Australia since 2006 and 2004 was the last time they scored a win on home soil with a 24-12 victory in Wigan. Australia won both matches in the Four Nations event in the Old Dart in 2011 recording a 36-20 triumph at Wembley Stadium before a 30-8 win to lift the trophy at Elland Road, Leeds.

Click here to bet on RL World Cup matches