USA v Cook Islands
Memorial Stadium, Bristol
Wednesday 8pm (UK time)
Thursday 7am (AEDT); 6am (AEST)
This opening Group D match could represent the best chance in this tournament for each of these teams to record a first-ever World Cup victory. The USA Tomahawks are playing in their maiden World Cup after falling just short at recent attempts, while the best previous result for the Cook Islanders was a draw with Lebanon in their only World Cup appearance in 2000.
The Tomahawks come into this one in winning form, having upset a Catalans-packed French side in their trial match, while The Cooks were trounced 50-0 by a rampant Kiwis outfit.
Both sides are short on NRL experience; the Tomahawks will be looking for skipper and creative Eels back-rower Joe Paulo to provide some spark, and for Wests Tiger Eddy Pettybourne and Panther Clint Newton to add some go-forward. The team has had little time to gel with just two training sessions but will be hoping experienced coach and current Cowboys assistant Terry Matterson will have been able to work some magic in the two weeks since being appointed.
Former Knight Zeb Taia will be one to watch for The Cooks, along with hard-hitting Roosters youngster Dylan Napa and Panthers playmaker Isaac John. Experienced winger, former Eel and Titan Matt Petersen, also makes his way into the squad from his current base in the Gold Coast competition.
Former North Sydney Bears star, and Origin and Kangaroos forward David Fairleigh, will bring plenty of top-line experience to the squad. He has three wins from four games in charge of the national side, including a runners-up finish in the 2009 Pacific Cup.
Watch Out USA: Roosters back-rower Dylan Napa may not have spent a huge amount of time on the field in the NRL this year but he sure made an impact in those seven games. He put on plenty of big shots, none bigger than a memorable bone-rattler on Sharks skipper Paul Gallen in a clear sign he will not be overawed by big names or the big stage. Tomahawks ball-runners will no doubt be making sure they know whereabouts Napa is when they’re taking on the line.
Watch Out Cook Islands: Skipper Joe Paulo was frequently one of the best players in a beaten side at the back end of a horror 2013 for the Eels. A second-rower capable of filling in at five-eighth, his vision and ball playing close to the line will be key for the Tomahawks and his short ball was on display in the trial win over France, putting second-rower Matt Shipway over for one of the side’s four tries. Home-grown centre Mike Garvey also crossed in that match; the Philadelphia local recently moved to Ipswich to try to crack an NRL spot and will be a threat to The Cooks out wide.
Key Match-Up: Joe Paulo v Zeb Taia. With well over 200 top-line games between them, these two talented back-rowers will each need to lead their sides in both attack and defence. Taia averaged close to 100 metres per game in his career at the Knights while Paulo’s attacking flair has come on since joining the Eels from the Knights, averaging more than one offload per game with 15 line-break assists in 48 starts.
Televised: 7mate – Live Thursday 6.30am (NSW); 5.30am (Qld).
The Way We See It: The Cook Islanders have the edge in terms of international experience, and have had a steadier preparation. We expect them to get the job done here but an enthusiastic Tomahawk outfit won’t let them have it all their own way. Cook Islands by 10 points.