Pool Matches - Week 1: New Zealand v Lebanon preview
No contest looms as Kiwis take on Cedars
World Cup heavyweights New Zealand are expected to make a statement against Lebanon in an opening round Pool C match held in Warrington.
Coming into the tournament determined to make amends for a disastrous showing in the southern hemisphere five years ago, the Kiwis are all-but-certainties to finish at the top of Pool C ahead of Lebanon, Jamaica and Ireland.
Producing a comfortable victory over Tonga (26-6) back in June, along with a warm-up obliteration against Leeds (74-0) last week, coach Michael Maguire has named a near-identical line-up from the side that prevailed in the mid-season test held in Auckland, with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad preferred ahead of Marata Niukore in the centres.
Producing their best ever World Cup effort in 2017 with a quarter final finish, Lebanon will be vying to replicate that result by progressing beyond the pool stage.
Posting a comfortable mid-year win over Malta (30-14) with a side devoid of current NRL or Super League players, coach Michael Cheika will be banking on the experience of Mitchell Moses, Josh Mansour and Adam Doueihi to inspire an against-the-odds result.
The Cedars posted a high-scoring victory over Wales (38-22) during a warm-up match in Sale last weekend.
Naming Canterbury-Bankstown rookie Jacob Kiraz in the number one jersey following a break-out campaign, Lebanon previously faced New Zealand in the opening round of the 2000 World Cup.
Last meeting: RLWC 2000, Group 2 - New Zealand 64 Lebanon 0 at Gloucester.
The turn-of-the-century World Cup clash remains the only international where these two nations have faced off.
Who to watch: Gaining a shot at redemption after missing the last World Cup for disciplinary reasons, veteran front-rower Jesse Bromwich will be determined to lead from the front in his ninth test as New Zealand captain. Boasting 30 caps for the Kiwis since debuting a decade ago, the Dolphins-foundation signing is one of only three surviving players from the 2013 campaign held in the northern hemisphere. Set to come under pressure from the likes of Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Moses Leota to hold his place in the starting side as the tournament progresses, Bromwich will be out to show he still has what it takes to make an impact on the international stage.
Representing the Kangaroos at the last World Cup five years ago, Josh Mansour will be hoping to relaunch his career after falling out of favour in the NRL. Going from a grand finalist to languishing in reserve grade in the space of two seasons, the experienced winger previously represented Lebanon in three tests as a teenager in the 2009 European Cup. Regarded among the premier outside backs at the height of his career, Mansour will be a key contributor if the Cedars hope to pull off an unlikely upset.
My tip: Producing dominant opening round victories in three of their past four World Cup campaigns, New Zealand will be primed to develop combinations and confidence ahead of bigger matches to come. New Zealand by 36.
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