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Rugby League World Cup – Semi Finals Preview

Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 4 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League World Cup action with his tips for both semi final matches.

It’s the Rugby League World Cup semi-final most expected: The best team in the world taking on the team, technically, recognised as the best in the world. There is little doubt that Australia ($1.20) is expected to take care of the #1-ranked Kiwis ($4.50) and advance to the final. They’re $1.20 favourites for a reason. James Tedesco is arguably the best player in the world. If it’s not him, Nathan Cleary and Cameron Munster are in the conversation. At his best, Latrell Mitchell is in there, too. Looking down the likely team list and you struggle to find a weakness in the Kangaroos side. The Kiwis are similar on paper. Outside of the centres which is an issue most saw coming months ago, the New Zealand team is stacked. They have the most formidable forward pack in the game right now. That’s on paper, though. They’ve disappointed on the field throughout the Rugby League World Cup. That formidable pack hasn’t dominated quite like it should. That, in turn, has put a handbrake on a spine that can pile up points on anybody when given the platform. The Kiwis are underdogs, but it isn’t difficult to imagine an upset.

It needs to be the pack that starts it if there is one. If the Kiwis can control the middle of the field, they can start to keep a lid on one of Australia’s most dangerous weapons: Cleary’s kicking game. In a tight contest, Cleary’s kicking game can be the difference. He can turn a poor set into a good one with one swing of his leg. However, if the Kiwis are on top in the middle and their line speed is putting Australia on the backfoot, they can apply pressure to Cleary and reduce the impact of his boot. That’s the first step. From there, the spine can get to work and produce points.

While the Kiwis haven’t been at their best during the tournament, expect an improvement. We should see a rise in intensity and defence. However, the Kangaroos have the strike weapons to produce the match-winning play when it matters. Harry Grant will be out there late. Cleary and Isaah Yeo know how to manipulate a defensive line for Mitchell, Tedesco, Josh Addo-Carr and Valentine Holmes to score. In what should be a close game, the Kangaroos have a significant advantage when it comes to finding points when it matters most.

Tip: Handicap – New Zealand +12.5 @ $1.90

The Rematch. We didn’t know how much we wanted this game until it was confirmed following Toa Samoa’s win over Mate Ma’a Tonga in the Rugby League World Cup quarter-finals. Thrashed by England in the first round of pool play, Samoa will have their chance to right their wrongs in front of a huge crowd at Emirates Stadium.

England ($1.35) are fairly heavy favourites over Samoa ($3.25) this time around despite Samoa’s improvement throughout the tournament. Grossly overrated to start given their lack of cohesion and familiarity, the development of that cohesion and familiarity in the three games sinces and translated into better performances. The Samoan pack can clearly hold its own given how well they handled a monster Tonga middle. In the semi final, the halves pairing of Jarome Luai and Anthony Milford proved to be one of the biggest differences between the two sides. And with Joseph Sua’ali’i escaping a ban for a dangerous carry, Samoa have their strike weapon at the back. He is irreplaceable in this side and will be a threat to England all the way up the field.

But this England team is well-drilled. Few saw it before the Rugby League World Cup kicked off, but the cohesion and understanding of the game plan makes up for any perceived shortcomings they face in terms of the lack of NRL players. Victor Radley, in particular, has been superb. Acting as the link to Jack Welsby and George Williams, Radley has helped take the England attack to another level as they move the ball with ease.

Tommy Makinson finished with four in the quarter-final and will be a target for the England halves both in the air and on the ground. On the right edge, Dom Young has found regular success to have scored in all four games.

Samoa are on the up but England looks like the more complete side. Their spine is superior, and if this game ends up as the brutal contest through the middle it is expected to be, the key playmakers will be the difference.

Tip: Margin – England 1-12 @ $2.85


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