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World Cup team guides



By Paul Fletcher & Phil Harlow

After an eight-year absence, the Rugby League World Cup begins in Australia on 25 October.

The competition format will see 10 teams, including England, Scotland and Ireland, divided into three pools for the group stages, before the knock-out games get under way.

The structure of the tournament looks complicated at first glance but has been designed to ensure an intense and exciting competition.

The 10 teams are split into three groups, with the "big four" of Australia, New Zealand, England and Papua New Guinea grouped together in Pool One; the top three of these teams will qualify for the semi-final stage.

Pool Two is made up of France, Fiji and Scotland, while Pool Three contains Tonga, Ireland and Samoa.

The top two teams in Pool's Two and Three will play-off for the one remaining semi-final berth.

BBC Sport profiles all 10 teams on display in Australia for the sport's showpiece international tournament.

AUSTRALIA

Australia coach Ricky Stuart
The media fully expects Stuart to guide his team to victory
Coach: Ricky Stuart. A brilliant half-back during his playing career with Canberra, Canterbury, New South Wales and Australia.

Started his NRL coaching career with Sydney City Roosters before taking charge at Cronulla Sharks, a role the 41-year-old combines with the Kangaroos job he has held since 2006.

Watch out for: Israel Falou. At 6ft 5in and 16st 3lb, the 19-year-old is a fearsomely powerful centre/winger. Not surprisingly nicknamed "Big Man", he became the youngest player to play for the Kangaroos when he played against New Zealand in October 2007 at just 18 years and 194 days old.

World Cup history: A monotonous tale of one success after another since 1975. The Kangaroos have won the tournament nine times, including the last six in a row, and undoubtedly have the most illustrious history of any team to play international rugby league.

Chances: Hot favourites to win in the centenary year of the game in Australia, with bookmakers offering odds as short as 2-9.

It is difficult to argue with their strength in depth, with the NRL seeming to churn out superstar after superstar but England and New Zealand will harbour hopes of ending the Kangaroos' long-standing dominance of the tournament.

Did you know? Terry Campese is the nephew of rugby union legend David. The exciting young stand-off was the ball-boy at his uncle's testimonial match.

ENGLAND

England coach Tony Smith
Smith is unbeaten so far since making the move into the Test scene
Coach: Tony Smith. Anyone doubting the Australian's commitment to his adopted country should know that the 41-year-old is now a British citizen.

After a respectable but unspectacular playing career, Smith moved into coaching and made his mark at Leeds Rhinos, ending their long wait for a title in 2004 and following it up with another success in 2007.

Watch out for: Rob Burrow. With Smith promising a "high-energy" and entertaining brand of rugby, the stage looks set for the livewire scrum-half to sparkle. As he must tire of hearing, the 5ft 5in Rhinos star is the smallest man in Super League, but his invention and quick feet can make monkeys of the big men around the ruck if his pack can get him on the front foot.

World Cup history: Tricky one this. Great Britain won the trophy three times - in 1954, 1960 and 1972 - and finished runners-up in 1957, 1970, 1977 and 1992. England have chalked up final appearances in 1975 and 1995. The less said about their 2000 World Cup campaign, the better.

Chances: Optimists, including Leeds' Grand Final-winning coach Brian McClennan, believe England will never get a better chance. "England will have a very good World Cup. Australia are ready to be beat - their invincibility tag has gone now," said McClennan.

Adrian Morley
Morley is a no-nonsense operator who likes to get stuck into the opposition
England certainly have a squad containing players of genuine quality, with the likes of Jamie Peacock and Jamie Graham capable of going toe-to-toe with anybody, and Smith looks to have attended to every detail in his preparations.

But pessimists predict another agonising failure against the all-conquering Aussies. A lot could depend on whether Smith can get inside his players' minds enough to make them believe they have what it takes to beat the Kangaroos.

Did you know? England enforcer Adrian Morley holds an unwanted record for the fastest sending-off in Test history. Back in 2003, he was dismissed after just 12 seconds of Britain's defeat by Australia for his high tackle on Robbie Kearns.

NEW ZEALAND

Coach: Stephen Kearney. The former Kiwi captain took over in difficult circumstances in February after his predecessor Gary Kemble resigned in the wake of a player revolt. Still just 36, the former Hull FC second rower is assistant coach with NRL side Melbourne Storm.

Kearney will also benefit from the considerable knowledge of legendary former Brisbane Broncos and Australia coach Wayne Bennett, with the 58-year-old working as an advisor.

New Zealand's David Kidwell
Kidwell (left) certainly made an impression on Willie Mason
Watch out for: David Kidwell. If the gargantuan second rower never pulls on a pair of rugby boots again, his place in the hearts of Kiwi fans is already assured after his thunderous shoulder charge on Australia's Willie Mason in 2006.

Kidwell is a key part of a typically physical and abrasive New Zealand pack, and a player the opposition will certainly treat with healthy respect.

World Cup history: Perennial contenders, New Zealand have taken part in every tournament without making the breakthrough of claiming the trophy. So far, appearances in the final in 1988 and 2000 are as close as they've got.

Chances: Like several other sides, New Zealand have been unable to select their very strongest squad, with Sonny Bill Williams defecting to rugby union and the likes of Brent Webb and Jeff Lima ruled out through injury.

Nevertheless, the clashes with England and old enemies Australia will not be for the faint-hearted, and a place in the final is well within reach for a talented and battled-hardened squad.

Did you know? Massive Kiwi winger Manu Vatuvei - all 17st 9lb of him - goes by the nickname "The Beast".

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Coach: Adrian Lam. The former Wigan scrum-half is a hero in Papua New Guinea, having played at the very highest level in Britain and Australia. Now assistant coach at Sydney Roosters.

John Wilshere
Wilshere's experience and leadership will be vital for the Kumuls
Watch out for: John Wilshere. After a great season for Salford in National League One, the 30-year-old will be relishing the chance to show what he can do on the world stage.

With the added responsibility of captaining a rugby league-mad country, the skilful centre should come out all guns blazing.

World Cup history: The Kumuls did not get invited to the tournament until the 1985-88 "World Series" tournament. They lost all eight games in 1992, but enjoyed their best tournament last time out in 2000, winning all three group games to reach the quarter-finals. After losing to Wales in the last eight, the PNG squad was greeted by 70,000 fans on their return home.

Chances: "Stitch-up" is a very ugly phrase, but it's hard not to feel a huge amount of sympathy for the Kumuls after their treatment at the hands of the tournament organisers. Lumped in as a makeweight in a pool containing the three heavyweight teams in Test rugby, PNG have been given virtually no chance of progressing.

There is no doubting the talent and boundless enthusiasm within the squad, but their ability to compete for 80 minutes in successive Tests against Australia, England and New Zealand has to be in doubt.

Did you know? Former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is among PNG veteran Stanley Gene's countless British fans, describing the Hull KR star as "an iconic figure".

see also
World Cup 2008 - players to watch
14 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
Jon Wilkin column
13 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
Australia call up Hunt and Boyd
16 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
PNG vow to upset World Cup odds
15 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
Wilshere handed Kumuls captaincy
14 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
England 74-0 Wales
10 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
Kiwi Webb forced out of World Cup
08 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
Purdham earns World Cup call-up
07 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
Rugby League World Cup 2008 fixtures
08 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
Rugby League World Cup squads
14 Oct 08 |  Rugby League
Rugby League World Cup on the BBC
06 Oct 08 |  Rugby League


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