Fiji v Ireland preview
Fiji v Ireland
Spotland Stadium, Rochdale
Monday 8pm (UK time)
Tuesday 7am (AEDT); 6am (AEST)
A quarter-finals spot is up for grabs in what is essentially a battle for third place in Group A, with Australia and England expected to finish first and second in the toughest pool of the tournament. These two teams actually met at the quarter-finals stage in the last World Cup in 2008, with Fiji sending Ireland packing on the way to their best finish in the tournament.
Fiji are led in 2013 by front-row great Petero Civoniceva, who has kept match fit in the Queensland Cup this season and returns to the world stage with the country of his birth at the age of 37. His squad is brimmed with family connections, with Ashton, Tariq and Korbin Sims in the pack and Wes and Kevin Naiqama in the backline alongside Daryl and Ryan Millard.
Ireland reached the knockout stages last time around after surprising both Samoa and Tonga in the group stage, and they boast a squad dominated Super League players, with Canberra's Brett White, North Queensland's Rory Kostjasyn, Parramatta's Api Pewhairangi, Manly's James Hasson and returning Wests Tiger Pat Richards the team's NRL stars.
Watch Out Ireland: The Fijians look particularly strong in the back row and the outside backs, so Ireland will need to be wary when defending on the fringes. The Sims brothers and Jayson Bukuya are all capable of busting through the defensive line, and if they get the ball wide they have plenty of strike power in the form of Sisa Waqa, Wes Naiqama and barnstorming wingers Akuila Uate and Marika Koroibete.
Watch Out Fiji: Ireland's wide men aren't too shabby either. Pat Richards has scored 140 tries in 183 Super League games, took out the competition's Man of Steel award in 2010 and has just won the premiership with Wigan, while his fellow winger Damien Blanch knows his way to the tryline as well after scoring 73 tries in 120 Super League appearances. But their best weapon may be halfback Scott Grix, who is a jack-of-all-trades at club level but will be Ireland's chief playmaker. Grix arguably gives Ireland the advantage in the halves, which could be a key factor if the game goes down to the wire.
Key Match-Up: Akuila Uate v Pat Richards. Knights speedster Uate is one of the most destructive wingers in rugby league but has dropped out of the Australian rep scene in recent times, having represented New South Wales and Australia in 2011 and 2012. He'll get the chance to prove his critics wrong in this tournament, and will start his campaign up against one of the best wingers in the game in Richards – who has become a star in his time in Super League and is returning to the Wests Tigers in 2014.
Televised: 7mate – Live Tuesday 6.30am (NSW); 5.30am (Qld).
The Way We See It: In three of the four games so far this tournament the team with the most NRL talent has taken victory (with Papua New Guinea's one-point loss to France the exception), and we think the trend will continue here. The Irish can't be written off by any means but the Fijians are blessed with talent across the park and are capable of racking up points if their forwards can match it with their Irish counterparts. Fiji to win by eight points.