Quarter Finals: Australia v Samoa preview
Here we are, the beginning of the Quarter Finals. Every match will be do-or-die, history will be created with each bounce of the ball.
In this match, it's expectation up against hope. The expectation of the Australian team to seamlessly defend their World Cup title will be as high as ever following a convincing win over a spirited Lebanese side. Mal Meninga seems to have found his best seventeen players in preparation for this match, with Michael Morgan finally making a full claim on the five-eighth position.
Up against them is Samoa, to say they've had a disappointing World Cup would be a genuine understatement. Following two heavy defeats, Samoa was expected to beat a Scottish side reeling from the loss of three players to disciniplary issues. Instead of taking charge of the issue, Samoa ended up with a 14-all draw.
Now with the two sides competing, the continuation of form is to be highly expected. Australia are heading into the match as heavy favourites in a rare match in Darwin.
Australia have had two meetings previously against the Samoan team. The first time was in this stage of the 2000 World Cup, where Australia claimed a mighty 66-10 win over Samoa. But three years ago, the Samoans were having their day in the sun. Qualifying for the Four Nations for the first time, they managed two close games against top quality opposition. Following a 32-26 defeat to England, they fell 14-12 to New Zealand when Shaun Kenny-Dowall crossed for a try with less than five minutes remaining. Interestingly on this day, Josh McGuire was representing Samoa whilst Josh Papalii don the Green and Gold.
But there was no third time fortunate for the plucky Samoans. Samoa fought hard in the contest but the class of Cooper Cronk and Greg Inglis saw the Australians sail home to a comfortable 44-18 victory.
Who to watch: Michael Morgan has once again beat off all contenders to claim a spot in the starting halves for Australia and will seemingly need to regain his form from the NRL finals to retain it. Morgan has yet to put himself firmly in the spotlight for representative football, though recent performances against Lebanon and France have helped his caused somewhat. In what will be a battle of two massive forward packs, the skillset of Australia should put them in a position to win the game, and Morgan will once again need to be part of that for Australia to cruise as many expect.
As previously said, the strength of Samoa lies within their forward pack. The capabilities of the pack are well known, so a good performance by them should cause no surprise. However it is their attack which is asking more questions than answering. Specifically, Ben Roberts and Joseph Leilua can cause headaches, previous club form has more than proven this. But both of these players need to break the shackles if Samoa is to have any chance of causing a boilover here. Otherwise it's more than likely bag packing time.
My tip: I want to hope Samoa shows up in this match. The first twenty minutes will certainly decide how the flow of the game will go, and Australia will be looking for a big performance to shore up their credentials heading into the last matches of the tournament. Australia by 32.