Samoa Rugby League team perform the Siva Tau

Rugby League World Cup 2021: five things we learned from the opening games

The men’s Rugby League World Cup kicked off with an action-packed set of games: here’s five things we learned from the opening round.

Australia are still the best team in the world

The defending champions are ranked fourth in the world, haven’t played an international game since 2019 and their team has drastically changed from the winning lineup in 2017.

Despite this they proved why they are the most complete side in rugby league with a 42-8 win over Fiji. 

Player of the match Cameron Munster controlled the left-edge from five-eighth and assisted Angus Crichton and Latrell Mitchell for tries.

Melbourne Storm teammate Harry Grant was the other standout as he threatened from the back of every ruck whether that be through a 40/20 or a run from dummy half to score his own try.

The Kangaroos had the luxury of resting those who played in the NRL Grand Final and will get stronger with the likes of Nathan Clearly and Isaac Yeo returning to the team. 

Players from the National Rugby League make a huge difference

In the Italy v Scotland and Ireland v Jamaica games there was a player clearly of a higher calibre both from the NRL.

For Italy that was captain Nathan Brown of the Parramatta Eels who was incredible in the middle of the field throughout their 28-4 win.

The loose forward led by example with 200 run metres, 73 of those post-contact and 35 tackles alongside providing the key link between forwards and backs.

Three-time NRL champion Luke Keary ran the show in Ireland’s 48-2 win over the Reggae Warriors.

The Sydney Roosters stand off was the architect throughout as he broke the line on multiple occasions, bumped off would-be tacklers and drew in numerous players to allow his outside-backs to score. 

New Zealand were bailed out by individual brilliance and ill-discipline from Lebanon

The Kiwis have appeared in three of the last four World Cup finals but will need to be more clinical if they want to win their second title. 

Stunned by early tries from the Cedars in both halves left them up only by six in the 50th minute before star fullback Joseph Manu took centre stage with the game in the balance.

Manu took the game away from Lebanon showing off his footwork and huge fend to put Dylan Brown in for a try before he collected his own chip and chase then span away from the remaining defenders to make it 28-12.

Lebanon’s Adam Doueihi was bizarrely sent off for ‘foul and abusive language’ on the hour which ruined any chance of a comeback but New Zealand were only able to score once after this with numerous attacking sets ending in errors.

The return of halfback Jahrome Hughes from a calf injury could be the missing piece for the Kiwis as the tournament progresses.

Samoa didn’t live up to the hype

England’s put on a near-perfect display at St James’ Park, but Samoa were dismal in both defence and with ball in hand. 

Boasting their best squad in history, full of talent including eight NRL Grand Finalists meant England went down in the bookies eyes but it was these stars who failed to impress in their opener.

They lacked rhythm in attack with uncharacteristic errors from Penrith Panthers five eighth Jarome Luai and their only try came through an Izack Tago interception. 

Joseph Suaali’i was expected to be a star of the tournament but the 19 year old fullback was exposed by Dominic Young and Kallum Watkins as they breezed past him to score.

Even if they make it through the group, to concede 60 points is an ominous sign for Matt Parish’s side. 

Do not underestimate Papua New Guinea 

Despite losing 24-18 to Tonga, the Kumuls looked like real contenders for the tournament as they scored three tries and should’ve had more.

Dan Russell and Rodrick Tai were denied tries by video referee Ben Thaler, both ruled to be in touch for scores which injured star winger Xavier Coates would likely of scored.

Player of the Match Edwin Ipape was destructive with ball in hand and set up Lachlan Lam’s try in the 41st minute with a barnstorming run from dummy half.

If all goes as expected and PNG go through as runners up in Group D then they will likely play England in the quarter finals, who after beating Samoa became clear favourites to top their group.

The home side will need to be at their absolute best if that fixture materialises with game breakers such as Alex Johnston, the NRL’s top try scorer for the past three seasons, likely to be a constant threat.

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Featured image credit: Fleets via Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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