World Cup: What we've learnt, part four
1. The Kiwis aren't missing Benji
Forget about the fact Benji Marshall didn't have his best ever year at the Tigers in 2013 – his playmaking skills were an instrumental part of helping the Kiwis to World Cup glory in 2008 and a Four Nations triumph in 2010. While undoubtedly brimming with talent, the younger and less tried halves combination of Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson was no guarantee to bring immediate results. But they've been arguably the most successful playmaker pairing of the World Cup: the Kiwis are the highest-scoring side after four weeks of the tournament with Foran and Johnson notching a combined 13 try assists. By comparison, Jonathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Daly Cherry-Evans have combined for six.
2. Jarryd Hayne can play anywhere
OK, first of all a disclaimer – yes, we realise it was "only" the USA. But Hayne was both powerful and assured playing 80 minutes in the vexed right centre position. He was our Man of the Match with four tries (and was instrumental in setting up two more), four line breaks, 153 metres and nine tackle breaks. Crucially he also made 10 tackles – more than anyone else in the backline – missing just one. If there had been a criticism of playing Hayne "out of position" in the centres it seemed to revolve around questioning how he'd handle the increased defensive workload. But Hayne did absolutely everything asked of him and more, and with Billy Slater's injury having set a cat amongst the pigeons, Hayne's form and versatility seems to have guaranteed him a place somewhere in Tim Sheens' top 17.
3. A clear top two is emerging
We don't want to write off the Poms just yet because if they do topple the Kiwis this weekend we'll be left to remove a large quantity of egg from our faces – but they really do seem to lack that killer instinct in a way the Kiwis and Kangaroos do not. Granted the Kiwis are yet to face top-line opposition, and the English started strongly in a tough game against the Aussie side. But while the Kiwis wiped the floor with a disappointing French side 48-blot, the fact England eventually stretched their win out to 34-6 at full-time against a French side that spent most of that match with a two-man interchange bench due to injuries seemed more a measure of how bad France were rather than a measure of English dominance. Perhaps a look at the current for-and-against tells a story – Australia: +152; New Zealand: +148; England: +84. We expect New Zealand to be far too strong for England this weekend then to take the fight to the Aussies in the final. If England do somehow overcome the Kiwis, we can't see them getting close to a fired-up Kangaroos outfit in the decider.
4. Henry Perenara is a top line referee
He may not be the most experienced whistle blower in the NRL, but the former Warriors, Storm, Dragons, Eels and Sharks forward has barely set a foot wrong during the tournament so far, with a number of quality calls. This entry may not especially please Cowboys fans still irate over Cronulla's 'seventh tackle try' that helped bundle them out of their 2013 elimination final, with Perenara having been one of the two on-field officials at fault in that one, but he looks to have moved on from that error admirably. A case in point was his decision to have a look at a try to Daly Cherry-Evans late in the Kangaroos' win over the USA. While many would have let it go, an astute Perenara felt Cherry-Evans may have been in front of the play the ball – with his hunch proving correct.
5. Marika Koroibete will give Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter some welcome selection headaches
With Tim Simona and Chris Lawrence likely to form a first-choice star centre pairing with James Tedesco at fullback, boom youngsters David Nofoaluma and Marika Koroibete were set to form an exciting and explosive wing pairing for the Tigers in 2014. When the Tigers invested in bringing 2005 premiership winner and Wigan's 2010 Man of Steel Pat Richards back to the club, injury-plagued Koroibete seemed the most likely to miss out. But Koroibete played a starring role in Fiji's 22-6 win over Samoa, with match highs in metres (220), runs (19), line breaks (two) and tackle breaks (seven), and has shown he is made for the big time. Perhaps even more significantly, Samoa deliberately set out to target Koroibete with bombs in that match but the young Fijian didn't miss a thing all night. Aside from presenting Potter with a welcome conundrum, he's also shown former Kangaroo Akuila Uate will be far from the only threat Australia will face in this weekend's semi-final.