Anthony Minichiello and the Italians are on track to take on defending champions New Zealand in the World Cup quarter-finals. Credit: SWpix.com Copyright: SWpix.com
With all teams having played their first two group matches, who are the overachievers and underachievers? And how are the quarter-finals match-ups shaping up?
This is one group where matches have gone as expected. Australia is on track to top the group after pipping England in the tournament opener and thumping Fiji 34-2 on the weekend. England recovered from their loss to the Kangaroos by thrashing Ireland 42-0 and can book second spot with a win over Fiji this weekend. Three of the four teams from this group will advance, so Fiji are also likely to go through after defeating Ireland 32-14 in their first game of the campaign. Only a borderline impossible win over Australia this weekend could save Ireland from crashing out of the tournament.
Likely finishing order: Australia 6 points; England 4 pts; Fiji 2 pts; Ireland 0 pts
Defending champions New Zealand are on track to top their group after defeating Samoa 42-24 and then thrashing France 48-0. Their final pool match is against struggling Papua New Guinea, who are set to miss the quarter-finals after being pipped 9-8 by France and thumped 38-4 by Samoa. France and Samoa meanwhile will play off for second spot in the group on Tuesday morning (Australian time), with the loser facing a massive test against England in the quarters. If the final group matches go to plan, the runner-up in this group would only need to beat Fiji to advance to the tournament's final four.
Likely finishing order: New Zealand 6 pts; Samoa 4 pts; France 2 pts; Papua New Guinea 0 pts.
Competition is fierce in this group with just one quarter-finals spot up for grabs. Italy and Scotland have been two of the tournament's surprise packets, with the Italians blessed with several NRL veterans and Scotland boasting the classy halves pairing of Peter Wallace and Super League 'Man of Steel' Danny Brough. Both teams grabbed first-up wins – Scotland shocking Tonga in one of the World Cup's biggest upsets and Italy beating Wales – before sharing the points in their second game with a 30-30 draw. Only for-and-against will split them if both nations manage to win their final match, with Scotland taking on the impressive USA from Group D and Italy facing a blockbuster against Tonga.
Big things had been expected of Tonga but they were disappointing in their narrow loss to Scotland and were lucky to get away with a six-point victory over the Cook Islands in their Group D crossover match. They'll need to beat Italy and hope Scotland loses to the Tomahawks in order to go through to the next stage. Both those games are likely to go down to the wire, but we think Italy have shown enough to advance from this group.
Likely finishing order: Italy 5 pts; Scotland 5 pts; Tonga 2 pts
The United States have made the perfect start to their first Rugby League World Cup campaign, grabbing surprise wins over the NRL-flavoured Cook Island and the Super League-dominated Wales. Those victories have been enough to send them through to the quarter-finals already, with both their group rivals having lost their two opening matches. The results have been particularly disappointing for the Welsh, who have been outplayed on their home turf. The Cook Islands have been unlucky to get nothing from their two games, recovering from their shock loss to the USA with a much-improved effort against Tonga – only to lose a game in which they were probably the better team. They're a good chance of completing what will be a forgettable campaign for Wales in their final match.
Likely finishing order: USA 4 pts, Cook Island 2 pts, Wales 0 pts
Likely quarter-finals draw
Saturday Nov 16, 7am AEDT: New Zealand (Winner B) v Italy (Winner C)
Sunday Nov 17, 12am AEDT: Australia (Winner A) v USA (Winner D)
Sunday Nov 17, 7am AEDT: England (Runner-up A) v France (3rd Place B)
Monday Nov 18, 2am AEDT: Samoa (Runner-up B) v Fiji (3rd Place A)