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Team-by-team guide to World Cup 9s

NRL.com has run the rule over the 12 men's squads from the Downer Rugby League World Cup Nines tournament which kicks off at Bankwest Stadium on Friday night.

Australia

There are plenty of long-serving Kangaroos sitting this tournament out with coach Mal Meninga taking a heavy focus on youth, speed and versatility. The result is an exciting young squad with plenty of attacking prowess and just enough old heads to keep the runaway train on its tracks.

Daly Cherry-Evans, Wade Graham, Ben Hunt and Tyson Frizell are the only regular Kangaroos in the 16.

The likes of Josh Addo-Carr and Ryan Papenhuyzen provide the blistering pace; Kyle Feldt, Campbell Graham and Reuben Garrick are superb finishers and Nathan Brown and Jai Arrow are the modern prototype of mobile middle forwards.

Add those men to the playmaking skills of Kalyn Ponga, Mitch Moses, Clint Gutherson and AJ Brimson and you have a team to be reckoned with.

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If this side gets on a roll they could rack up some serious scores and with two teams to progress from Group A expect to see the Aussies playing off for a spot in the final.

New Zealand

Another squad with plenty of up-and-coming talent, the key man here will be Nines veteran Shaun Johnson.

Now at the Sharks, Johnson was the beating heart of every Warriors' Auckland Nines campaigns with the full bag of tricks helping his club to the 2016 final and with assistance from exciting young Eels playmaker Dylan Brown, who improved rapidly through the 2019 season.

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An array of some of the best finishers in the competition in the shape of Ken Maumalo, Reimis Smith, Jamayne Isaako and Bailey Simonsson ensures half-chances should be taken.

The likes of Joe Tapine, Briton Nikora and Corey Harawira-Naera bring skill and mobility to the forwards while the late call-up of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad for Jordan Rapana adds X-factor at the back.

The Kiwis will be disappointed if they aren't one of the two teams to make it out of  Group A.

England

Not unlike Australia and New Zealand, England's squad carries a heavy focus on youth and attacking nous.

Incoming Raider George Williams and ex-Raider Blake Austin will be the go-to men here with the experienced Gareth Widdop calling the shots.

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Austin has been tremendous since moving to the UK and his hard running and versatility should be perfectly suited to the format.

NRL fans didn't see the best of Sam Tomkins in his two seasons at the Warriors but he's another who will enjoy the open space.

Keep an eye on Leeds try-scoring sensation Ash Handley while Test stalwarts Jermaine McGilvary and Roosters winger Ryan Hall will also be a massive handful.

The standout side in arguably the weakest of the three groups, England will be heavily favoured to earn a preliminary final spot.

Fiji

When we talk about the Nines format levelling the playing field for nations with less depth but plenty of skill and speed, no country encapsulates that better than Fiji.

A handful of out-and-out superstars provide the game-breaking ability alongside five local Fijian players and a few journeymen rounding out the squad.

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Maika Sivo, Waqa Blake and Suliasi Vunivalu are devastating in open space while hard-running Panther Viliame Kikau is very close to the perfect Nines forward – huge and hard to handle yet still skilful and mobile.

Skipper Kevin Naiqama returns to Australia from a triumphant season with St Helens.

Fiji have an excellent chance of progressing out of their group if they can upset Tonga on Saturday.

Tonga

Fortunately for rugby league fans, a temporary hold to the ructions in Tongan rugby league means a powerful squad will take to Bankwest Stadium this weekend, led by stars Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita.

An emotional Andrew Fifita.
An emotional Andrew Fifita. ©NRL Photos

Throw in the skilful John Asiata, Maroons forward Joe Ofahengaue and the damaging Tevita Pangai jnr and Tonga's threat through the middle will be the equal of any side in the competition.

The threat out wide in the shape of Sione Katoa, Robert Jennings and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak should see plenty of points scored by Mate Ma'a Tonga.

With just one finals spot on offer for Group C, Tonga can't afford any slip-ups against the dangerous Fijian and Samoan outfits.

Samoa

The contest between Samoa, Fiji and Tonga in Group C will be one of the highlights of the group stages with Matt Parish's men boasting plenty of X-factor.

Bustling wingers David Nofoaluma, Brian To'o and Jorge Taufua are set to cause headaches out wide and the Leilua brothers, Joey and Luciano, are capable of offloading from anywhere.

Versatile Tiger Michael Chee Kam has been the clutch man for his club in 2019 while Panthers livewire Jarome Luai can create something out of nothing.

Their forward pack arguably isn't as mobile as the other nations in Group C but Storm giant Tino Fa'asuamaleaui will be boosted by his recent Australian PM's XIII appearance.

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Papua New Guinea

The Kumuls have an advantage over some of their Pacific rivals, featuring in Group A with two finals spots on offer but with the tough task of needing to upset Australia or New Zealand to get there.

They will at least enjoy coming in with no pressure or expectations with a squad of hard-runners and hard-hitters who can throw caution to the wind.

Former Bulldog Rhyse Martin returns from the UK to add top-line experience alongside breakout Storm centre Justin Olam.

Cook Islands

The Kukis have a few NRL stars to guide a squad of mostly part-timers through the weekend but they face a very tough ask to progress with just one from Pool C to make the prelims and all of Tonga, Fiji and Samoa boasting powerful squads.

Captain Alex Glenn is versatile and reliable and will have a huge role to play both on and off the field. Eels utility Brad Takairangi can play almost every spot on the field and his rangy offloading will be a bonus.

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His departing clubmate Tepai Moeroa will starch up the middle with Dragons youngster Steven Marsters to add some spark out wide. Former Warrior Anthony Gelling didn't get much of a chance in his time in the NRL but is a dangerous centre or winger on his day.

France

No names in the French side will be too familiar to NRL audiences with almost the entire squad based locally, either with Super League outfit Catalans or one of the local championship sides.

There is a fair bit of Test experience in the squad with eight of the squad involved in last year's European Championship Tests against Wales, Ireland and Scotland in which they won all three matches.

Toulouse winger Paul Macron bagged three tries in two games in that series and Catalans hooker Alrix De Costa got a brace in a win over Ireland. Toronto Wolfpack centre Hakim Miloudi and Catalans lock Jason Baitieri were among the others involved who will be looking to bring their international experience to this weekend.

Lebanon

Like France, Lebanon will be relying on a major mishap for England to take the one finals spot on offer from Group B.

They are missing plenty of regular NRL talent such as retired pair Robbie Farah and Tim Mannah, Australia halfback Mitch Moses and the likes of Adam Doueihi and Alex Twal.

The squad is mostly part-time but there are some familiar names for Cedars fans to get behind such as twins Reece and Travis Robinson, with the former Raiders and Eels flyer Reece leading the squad.

Wentworthville-turned-Mounties fullback Anthony Layoun has plenty of skill while young Bulldog James Roumanos was recently promoted to that club's top 30 roster and there are plenty of other names who featured in the 2017 World Cup under Brad Fittler.

USA

The Tomahawks are up against some serious firepower in Group A but it should be a learning experience for the budding rugby league nation.

Breakout Sharks winger Ronaldo Mulitalo is the one to watch here while former Rabbitoh and Titan Eddy Pettybourne and ex-Panther Junior Vaivai bring further NRL experience.

Ex-Eels winger Bureta Faraimo has been racking up tries at Hull FC, while Ryan Burroughs is American-born and raised but briefly trained alongside Faraimo at Wentworthville when he was in the club's Ron Massey side.

Prop Mark Offerdahl, fullback Corey Makelim and Northern Pride forward Joe Eichner have been in the USA set-up for a while.

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Wales

The final team in Group B, Wales's best hope of progression lies in edging fellow hopefuls France and Lebanon and hoping for a major stumble from England.

There is plenty of Super League talent in the Welsh side with Bradford centre Rhys Evans spending almost a decade at Warrington and winger Rhys Williams racking up the tries at the London Broncos. St Helens speedster Regan Grace is coming off a grand final win and a 20-try season – fourth best in the competition.

 

For ticket and travel packages for the Downer Rugby League World Cup 9s Sydney 2019, head to nrl.com/tickets.