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Rugby League World Cup: Assessing the quarter finalists

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The Men's Rugby League World Cup is now into sudden death territory, with the group stages throwing up some predictable blow-out scores but a few nuggets of heartwarming stories. The performances of part-time Greece and Jamaica were admirable and hopefully inspired future generations back home. Although the scorellines may have left a lot to be desired in terms of competitiveness, some of the world's best took their opportunity to strut their stuff and wow crowds and BBC viewers. England are the only Northern Hemisphere side remaining in the competition, which was predicted pre-tournament, and there were no surprises with which sides will be facing off for a spot in the semis.

Australia remain favourites, with New Zealand hot on their heels in the betting while England are the big movers after their ruthless group stage performances. Tonga and Samoa will be fancying their chances against each other in the pick of the ties, while Fiji and Lebanon are probably just making up the numbers (although don't let some of their big forwards hear you saying that!) We've taken a look through the outright markets and outlined some possible routes to glory for the leading contenders...

Australia - 4/9

The Kangaroos were never remotely in danger throughout the group phase of this competition, swatting Fiji aside before dismantling and nilling Scotland in Coventry. These two results meant they were safely through to the quarter final stages but they still stuck 66 points on the poor Italians for good measure in their last group game. Josh Addo-Carr has dazzled Northern Hemisphere fans with his otherworldly speed, James Tedesco has marshalled the Kangaroos superbly from full-back and a host of the youngsters who were debuting in the Green and Gold have taken to international rugby league like ducks to water. Mal Meninga has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal and none of the 24 players in his squad would let him down. The big conundrum seems to be new kid in town Nathan Cleary or old stager Daly Cherry-Evans to be the half back and conductor of the side, but the consensus seems to be Cleary will get the nod to partner Cameron Munster now the knock-out rugby has begun.

It's all well and good saying anything can happen in sport, but when it comes to Australia vs Lebanon in the first quarter final on Friday it really can't. Australia will win and win handsomely, laying down another marker for the Kiwis, the English, the Tongan and Samoan teams gunning for their title as World Champions. In truth, Meninga would never say it but he will use this game as another trial for next week and arguably the biggest game of the tournament when Australia take on (probably) New Zealand for a place in the 2022 Rugby League World Cup Final.

New Zealand - 9/2

Michael Maguire seemed minorly irritated by The Kiwis performance in their World Cup opener against Lebanon, when despite a handsome win the New Zealanders were clunky in attack and porous in defence. It was only really the brilliance of Joey Manu from full-back that stopped this game descending into a scrappy affair, but since that game Lebanon have proved they are no mugs and gazumped Ireland for a coveted quarter final spot. The Kiwis have improved with every game and although they will have been annoyed to concede to Jamaica in the dying stages of their clash in Hull, the Jamaicans' celebrations at troubling the scoreboard operator was one of the highlights of the tournament so far. They finished their group stage with a comfortable win over Ireland and seem to be in fantastic shape for a serious tilt at a first World Cup since 2008.

Brandon Smith has been a menace from hooker, Nelson Asofa-Solomona has skittled defenders for fun and of course the brilliant Manu has wreaked havoc from full-back, undoubtedly his best position but one we see him operate in all too rarely in the NRL due to James Tedesco's brilliance. Jahrome Hughes returned for the Ireland win and only needed to play 60 minutes to stamp his class on this World Cup. The Melbourne Storm half will be tasked with guiding his side through the knock-out stages and although seeing off Fiji is no foregone conclusion, The Kiwis will be expecting to win to set up the enormous Australia vs New Zealand semi-final at Headingley.

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England - 13/2

After being dismissed in some quarters (including by this humble scribe on these shores and a host of NRL-centric Southern Hemisphere pundits). Shaun Wane's England side slammed their doubters in the World Cup opener with a breathtaking 60-6 demolition of Samoa. This was the result of the tournament so far without a doubt as the Samoans were in fact 2 point favourites at kick-off, and as poor and undercooked as they looked nothing can be taken away from England. The home team's forwards were exemplary and out enthused their higher profile rivals at St James' Park, Jack Welsby announced himself on the world stage and the 21 year old had fun getting one over cocky Samoan half Jarome Luai. Finally, Dom Young has become English rugby league's biggest star for years with his stunning try scoring exploits, racking up eight in three games to sit in pole position for the top try-scorer gong. Wane has had his controversial squad selection vindicated in spades and his old stager forwards have been simply brilliant for him, running fast and direct and laying the perfect platform for Welsby, Marc Sneyd and the rejuvenated George Williams.

England are the big market movers for the RLWC, with some firms quoting them at just 5/1 whereas before the Samoa game they were a whopping 16/1! They have the supposed easiest route to the final, avoiding the other members of the 'Big Three' in Australia and New Zealand and are prohibitively short to beat Papua New Guinea in their quarter final at Wigan on Saturday. The Kumuls will be no pushovers and England could be worth taking on in the handicap markets, but they should have enough to advance to a massive semi-final with either Samoa or Tonga at The Emirates. England are now odds-on to reach the final and their presence should ensure a bumper crowd for the big game.

Tonga - 14/1

Semi-finalists and a dubious video refereeing decision away from finalists back in 2017, Tonga have come on leaps and bounds on the international scene in recent years and are confident they can claim a first ever World Cup. Coach Kristian Woolf is no stranger to success on these shores, in particular at Old Trafford after guiding St Helens to three Super League titles in a row. They have, like many other sides, grown into this tournament and took their performances to a new level with an evisceration of the Cook Islands in the last game of the group stages. This coincided with the return of their talismanic skipper Jason Taumalolo, widely regarded as the best lock forward to ever play the game and probably the greatest Tongan player of all time. He was the inaugural defector from Australian selection to represent his Tongan heritage and has started a rugby league revolution for Pacific Island nations. 

The Tongans will be in the game of the tournament so far this weekend at an expected packed out Halliwell Jones Stadium in Warrington where they will face rivals Samoa in a sudden death pacific shoot-out. If you are anywhere near the North West of England get yourself a ticket and get down to this game, because the intensity in the pre-match war dances will be worth admission fee alone before some rugby league of the highest quality gets underway. According to oddsmakers Tonga are the slight favourites but this is the game we here at BettingOdds have been looking forward to since the quarter final line up was announced and we simply cannot wait for it all to kick off!

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Samoa - 20/1

No nation has ever begun a World Cup with such expectation and then produced a performance as putrid as that of Samoa in the opener to this year's World Cup at St James' Park. Backed into favouritism by a sea of money from NRL fans who saw the stonking talent list, namely eight members of the champion Penrith Panthers side, Samoa were never in the game with England in Newcastle and looked almost comically undercooked. If you'd said the players had been on the drink on the plane over and just stumbled over to the stadium no one could argue, and coach Matt Parish was immediately under the cosh. The Samoans have restored some pride with adequate performances against minnows Greece and then France, but their price for World Cup glory has doubled with punters not in a rush to forget that England capitulation.

Jarome Luai has slowly restored himself to his Penrith form since his stinker in the opener and the Samoan pack will be much more up to speed for these knock-out rounds. They will need to be fit and firing if they are to handle the might of Tonga's pack hurtling towards them in the quarter final, and if they do pull off the slight betting surprise in beating Tonga they face a perfect chance at revenge against England in the semi-final (unless of course PNG pull off the impossible). Samoa probably deserve to be the odds they're priced at now as they will be underdogs for their next three games if making it to the final, but they are definitely not no-hopers.

Bar - 250/1

Papua New Guinea are the next most likely winner of the Rugby League World Cup after the Big Five and it would be one of the sporting shocks of all time if any of PNG, Fiji or Lebanon were to make it to the final let alone lift the trophy for the first time. Expect Fiji and Papua New Guinea to put up herculean resistance to their more fancied quarter final foes but eventually to wilt and allow the expected semi-final line up to take shape.

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