Updated: Friday, 3rd July 2020 @ 7:20am

Rugby League World Cup blog: A look at the minnows and their quarter-final chances

Rugby League World Cup blog: A look at the minnows and their quarter-final chances

By Matt Turner

With none of the competition’s big guns in action until the weekend, the weekday games are a chance for the lesser lights of the competition to shine.

Rugby league fans who are frustrated that the game hasn’t really spread beyond England, Australia and New Zealand need only look at the early stages of this year’s competition.

The performances of the likes of Italy and the United States show that the influence of rugby league is spreading, which can only bode well for the future of the sport.

Both the Azzuri and the Tomahawks are competing in their first major international tournament and both have won many fans with their style of play.

The Italians, skippered by Australian-born Anthony Minichiello, have scored 30 points or more in both of their games so far against Wales and Scotland (not even Australia have done that!) whereas some of the rugby the USA have been playing has been sparkling.

In Joseph Paulo, the Americans have a player who has probably shone the brightest in the tournament so far. He usually plays in the second row for Paramatta Eels in the NRL, but has taken the switch to half-back like a duck to water.

He has been influential in a Tomahawks side that has stunned the competition by sitting top of Group D and a dream quarter-final with New Zealand in Leeds looks the likely destination for them.

Whilst the odds of them beating the Kiwis would be very long indeed, at least everyone would now know that the USA is now a team to be taken seriously.

The Italians have been equally impressive, comfortably dispatching of Wales before playing out a highly entertaining draw with Scotland last week.

However, despite their against-all-odds achievements, their route to the quarters may be blocked by another impressive performer in Scotland.

The Scots have been superbly led by Super League Man of Steel Danny Brough, whilst Warrington-bound full-back Matty Russell has given Wire fans a glimpse of what to expect with a couple of excellent individual tries.

Tonga cannot be discounted either, especially with players such as the impressively named former Kiwi Fuifui Moimoi in their ranks.

They face the Cook Islands tonight before a crunch clash with Italy on Sunday.

All three sides are battling it out to earn a likely quarter-final date with Australia, but it is tight at the top of Group C and only one can go through.

For what it’s worth, I’m backing Scotland to make it through as I think they have more players in their side that can change and win games in an instant, such as the afore-mentioned Brough.

In Group B, France and Samoa will face off in a crunch clash to decide which is likely to decide who finishes second to New Zealand.

Both are likely to make it through, but the victor of next Monday’s game will earn a more preferable quarter-final draw.

The winners will probably end up facing Fiji and the losers will face are likely to face host nation England for a place in the semi-finals.

Having watched both sides in action, I’d say that Samoa would have to be favourites. France may have star quality in the likes of Morgan Escare and Thomas Bosc, but I think Samoa have shown more as a team.

They pushed New Zealand all the way in their opening match and dominated Papa New Guinea in Hull last night, with full-back Antony Milford starring in a 38-4 victory.

Of course, we may see shocks and all these predictions may be thrown out of the window, but I believe the quarter-final line-up will look something like this:

New Zealand v Scotland

Australia v USA

England v France

Fiji v Samoa

Finally, I would highly recommend that any local league fans get down to Salford City Stadium on Thursday to see Scotland take on the USA.

Both sides are playing attractive, expansive money and I’m sure that it will definitely be worth the entrance fee, whatever the result.

Image courtesy of Rugby League World Cup TV 2013 via YouTube, with thanks.

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