Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
The Rugby League World Cup 2008 finals are reaching their climax with this weekend's matches to decide the two teams who will go on to meet and battle next week for the trophy.
New Zealand are favoured to knock England out of the tournament on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, following their 36-24 comeback win when the two sides met in their pool game last weekend. The winning team will live to fight another week, while the losing nation will be on the plane home pondering what could have been.
It's time for the major teams to make sure their big guns are all on board, so there are a few changes to the Kiwi line-up that was named ahead of last week's game. Captain Nathan Cayless returns at the expense of prop Evarn Tuimavave and Sam Perrett comes back onto the wing for Jason Nightingale.
Coach Stephen Kearney has swapped positions with Nathan Fien and Thomas Leuluai so that Fien will start at halfback and Leuluai will start at hooker, keeping Issac Luke ready to make his stamp on the game from the bench. Simon Mannering moves from the pack to centre for the injured Steve Matai, and Sika Manu returns to the starting Kiwi pack in Mannering's place.
What can we say about England? Their credibility and squad morale is really on the line in this match. Coach Tony Smith must be tearing his hair out, as the English team showed last week they have enough talent to contest these games, only to fall away badly when things became difficult. Games of international rugby league last for 80 minutes, and continue regardless of what you think of a few refereeing decisions.
There are a few doubts about the team line-up that Smith has named this week, and late changes are expected as the under-performing Paul Wellens and Leon Pryce have both come under heavy scrutiny. Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Rob Purdham step into the starting back row relegating Gareth Hock and Kevin Sinfield onto an extended bench. At the moment it seems like Danny McGuire and Mark Calderwood will miss out on the 17 altogether, with the St Helens trio James Graham, James Roby and Jon Wilkin all back and taking their place on the bench, and Paul Sykes and Jamie Langley are also nowhere to be seen.
Sunday's match at the Sydney Football Stadium sees tournament favourites Australia face the tournament's most successful minnows after Fiji finished all over the Irish to the tune of 30-14 in their qualifying match on Monday. However the last time these two countries met in 2000, Australia were victorious over Fiji by 66-8