Papua New Guinea v France
Craven Park, Hull
Sunday October 27, 4pm (local time)
Monday October 28, 2.30am (NSW); 1.30am (Qld)
Rugby league is Papua New Guinea's national sport and the Kumuls will be keen to get their World Cup campaign off to the right start against France.
They've been starved of World Cup success of late after being cruelly drawn in a group against powerhouses Australia, New Zealand and England in the 2008 tournament. Their best performance at a Cup came eight years earlier when the Kumuls advanced to the quarter-finals after going through their group undefeated.
A repeat of that feat is unlikely this time around, with the Kiwis and Samoa standing in their way, but the French look to be ripe for the picking after being shocked 22-18 by the USA in their warm-up match last week.
The Kumuls have lost star hooker James Segeyaro to injury, but have a more than capable replacement in the form of former Panther and Shark Paul Aiton.
Watch Out France: Papua New Guinea's strength is where it matters – through the spine. Their attack will come through the spark of Aiton at hooker, North Queensland's Ray Thompson in the halves and Gold Coast speedster David Mead at fullback, with captain Neville Costigan anchoring the forward pack at lock. They've also got one of the best brains trusts in the business, with national legend Adrian Lam coaching the side and assisted by record-breaking Maroons mentor Mal Meninga.
Papua New Guinea's physical nature could also prove too much for the French, who were thumped by the stronger Fiji and Samoan sides at the 2008 World Cup.
Watch Out Papua New Guinea: French five-eighth Thomas Bosc is the team's attacking star, while retiring Cowboys utility back Clint Greenshields has bags of experience and will be a constant threat from fullback.
France's best asset is their cohesion – 16 of their 24-man squad are club teammates at the Catalans Dragons, while Greenshields played alongside many of them in his time at the club between 2007 and 2012. That familiarity should be a real strength for the French in a tournament when other teams will still be fine-tuning their combinations in the first round of matches.
Key Match-Up: David Mead v Clint Greenshields. The battle of the fullbacks pits a young natural finisher against an experienced veteran who made his first-grade debut almost a decade ago. Mead has performed miracles on the right wing for the Gold Coast Titans but will have a larger role as the Kumuls' custodian, continuing in the kind of roaming role he played in William Zillman's absence for the late part of the 2013 season for the Titans. Greenshields scored three tries in his six games at fullback for the Cowboys this season when filling in for the injured Matt Bowen, and his running game will be one of France's best weapons in breaching Papua New Guinea's defence.
Televised: Live – 7mate at 2:30am (NSW); 1.30am (Qld)
The Way We See It: France's loss to the USA rings alarm bells for a team that has plenty of home-grown talent but doesn't possess much in the way of NRL-quality players. The Kumuls on the other hand have key players in key positions. Ray Thompson's experience playing alongside arguably the world's best playmaker Johnathan Thurston all season should serve him well at this tournament, and with Lam and Meninga pulling the strings Papua New Guinea should get the points here. The Kumuls to win by 12 points.