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Tournament favourites eye off pool clean sweep
As has been the case since before the tournament began, the most foregone conclusion in rugby league is Australia contesting the final, with the very strong likelihood of Cameron Smith hoisting the World Cup on December 2. Based on the opening fortnight of the tournament, there has been little to dissuade from that initial prediction and with the Kangaroos fielding a side to determine which players will make up the best 17 heading into the finals, it is not an overstatement to suggest a convincing win for the home side will eventuate on Saturday night. With a huge imbalance in experience between the two sides, coach Mal Meninga has opted to rest several of his established stars for the purposes of establishing the next generation of Australian representatives, along with challenging his players to thrive as a collective unit irrespective of the quality of their opposition. Having sat out last week, James Maloney and Ben Hunt will be looking to make strong impressions in their first appearances at the World Cup to leave selectors with a difficult proposition heading into the elimination stage next week.
Having been absent from the World Cup since the beginning of the new millennium, Lebanon has performed admirably against their Pool A opponents so far and will be hopeful of producing a strong showing on Saturday leading into their likely Qualifying Final against New Zealand. Openly acknowledging the disparity that exists in comparison to the top tier nations, coach Brad Fittler will be imparting the virtues of remaining composed against the Kangaroos in order to gauge which areas the Cedars need to develop heading towards future fixtures. Retaining the core attacking trio of Robbie Farah, Mitchell Moses and Michael Lichaa, Lebanon possess players capable of exploiting potential weaknesses in their opponents, however the primary challenge to be overcome lies in vast inexperience of the Cedar's forwards compared with the battle-hardened Australian pack. Much like the designated minnow selected to participate in the Four Nations over the years, the reality faced by Lebanon is that against elite opponents, a side made up predominantly of self-described ‘park footballers' is incapable of upsetting a nation that frequently subsumes the star players of emerging countries to the detriment of International growth. While there does appear to be a movement away from the Australia-New Zealand-England oligopoly, the harsh reality is the best possible result for the Cedars moving forward will be the development made over the course of the World Cup as a foundation for future tests.
Who to watch: While the move to rest Billy Slater during the tournament is far from a surprise, the decision to name Valentine Holmes as his replacement is somewhat unexpected. With a host of regular NRL fullbacks included in the Kangaroos 24-man squad, the Cronulla speedster was widely speculated to be reverting back to the flank on a fulltime basis, however in a sign of belief from Mal Meninga, Holmes has been tasked with a revered responsibility previously held by the likes of Lockyer, Minichiello and Churchill. With a skillset to rival most players in the tournament, the 22-year-old will be eager to impress in order to secure his place in the team moving forward, while sending a message to his club coach that while the likes of Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan may be headed to the Shire, fullback is where the Holmes is for Valentine.
While the Lebanese forward pack may not boast a great deal of experience in first grade, several of the Cedars have enjoyed lengthy careers for their country for well over a decade. Among the unfashionables facing off against the likes of Klemmer, Woods and Cordner, 32-year-old prop Ray Moujalli will take part in the biggest match of his career on Saturday. Alongside his lone appearance for the Roosters under Brad Fittler in 2009, the Lebanese veteran and long-serving Newtown lower grader will relish the opportunity to play in front of a sizeable and passionate crowd having spent the majority of his career in the largely unseen and unglamorous arena of suburban grounds.
The favourite: Having shown their class to grind out and rack up a score over the opening fortnight of the World Cup, the Kangaroos are expected to produce a latter performance against Lebanon.
My tip: With the Lebanon squad openly acknowledging the disparity that exists between themselves and the elite nations, it is a forgone conclusion that the home side will win. However as the Cedars displayed last Saturday, the margin of the victory won't necessarily be as lopsided as anticipated. Australia by 26.
1. Valentine Holmes 2. Dane Gagai 3. Tom Trbojevic 4. Cameron Munster 5. Josh Mansour 6. James Maloney 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Aaron Woods 9. Cameron Smith 10. David Klemmer 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Matt Gillett 13. Felise Kaufusi 14. Ben Hunt 15. Jordan McLean 16. Regan Campbell-Gillard 17. Wade Graham
1. Anthony Layoun 19. Danny Barakat 3. James Elias 4. Adam Doueihi 5. Abbas Miski 6. Mitchell Moses 7. Robbie Farah 8. Tim Mannah 9. Michael Lichaa 15. Ray Moujalli 11. Chris Saab 12. Ahmad Ellaz 16. Jamie Clark 10. Alex Twal 14. Mitchell Mamary 17. Andrew Kazzi 18. Jason Wehbe