With the Rugby League World Cup less then a year away, national sides are upping the ante ahead of the tournament in 2013. Australia and New Zealand are the obvious favourites and rightly so.
But don’t underestimate the value of the underdog.
England, Italy and Fiji are firming as dark horses for the Cup which kicks off on the 26th of October next year at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
The English destroyed Wales overnight in Wrexham 80-12 with Josh Charnley snaring four tries. A firing England side will ensure plenty of interest in the countdown to the World Cup.
“I have had a massive day with England and loved every minute,” Charnley said after the demolition of the Welsh.
“We have worked hard over the past few weeks building up to this game and to put in a strong performance was so important. We talked about being relentless in the final 20 minutes and we lived up to those expectations. I think we have laid the foundations now to take us forward in the competition.”
Spearheaded by Sam Tomkins, England face Australia in a huge double header to kick off the tournament before facing Fiji and Ireland.
The Burgess brothers, Chris Heighington, Gareth Ellis and James Graham give the host nation much needed grunt in the engine room while Brisbane Bronco Jack Reed adds a touch of class in the backline.
Another addition to Group A is the ever-entertaining Fijians who will have plenty of experience in their ranks.
Petero Civoniceva and Lote Tuquri are expected to lead the 2008 Cup semi-finalists.
At this stage, Jarryd Hayne is expected to miss selection for the Australians and would be a fantastic addition after representing the ‘Bati’ at the last World Cup.
“Like any Fijian player he [Hayne] likes to play where he feels relaxed and easy,” Fijian assistant coach Joe Rabele told AFP.
“Jarryd feels relaxed at fullback and he is more dangerous at fullback than on the wing.”
Sisa Waqa, Marika Koirebete and the Sims boys add plenty of skill and talent to an already dangerous outfit.
2012 Dally M Winger of the Year Akuila Uate is expected to be selected by Australia.
Another team destined to make a noise at the World Cup are the Azzuri. Italy will be bolstered by the addition of Penrith Panthers legend Craig Gower.
Gower has already represented Italy in rugby union and is desperate to cap his glittering career with a successful World Cup campaign.
Italy will be led by former Golden Boot winner Anthony Minichiello and hopefully Terry Campese. Shaun Berrigan is another name on the Italian wish list.
Anthony Laffranchi and Mark Minichiello will lead their forward pack.
The Azzuri face Scotland, USA and Wales at the World Cup.