Round One RLWC Action Sees New Zealand Make a Statement

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New Zealand v Samoa - 2017 Rugby League World Cup
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 28: Nelson Asofa-Solomona of the Kiwis on the charge during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup match between the New Zealand Kiwis and Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium on October 28, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

New Zealand sent a signal to other teams at the Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) after an above-standard performance in Round One RLWC results this weekend.

As well as Australia, the Kiwi hosts made their intentions clear, reacting to internal pressures with a better than expected victory over Samoa. Although with an injury to Gerard Beale–who has a double fracture in his leg, breaking both his tibia and fibula–the team’s resilience might be tested sooner rather than later.

The injuries were a constant in Round One RLWC results. Australia and England each endured similar issues, that overshadowed their Rugby League World Cup opener on Friday.

Besides those results, each of the 14 teams have now completed their opening fixtures. Some will be smiling, others will already be asking questions, as the League world focuses on Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea over the next weeks.

Round One RLWC Action Sees New Zealand Make a Statement

All teams had assembled by the time that the media opportunities began early this week. The quadrennial tournament had the best 14 teams assembled to bid for the Paul Barriere Trophy.

With the first round of fixtures set, all the news and player movements were put behind each of them. The talking was done, and ‘actions speak louder than words’.

Australia 18 England 4

Some talk of a rustiness to the Australian game, and that was evident. After the England team scored the opening points, it took all of the home team’s effort to come through in the end.

The key talking points will be injuries. For England, Sam Burgess who limped off. His knee strain had a prognosis of weeks away from the game–at a time that the Lions need him most. One positive though, was how hard James Graham chased Josh Doogan. That sort of commitment is admirable, and shows that player’s heart is in the right place.

For Mal Meninga, his realization that Jake Trbojevic is out of the cup tournament so early, puts a dampener on his sides game. Solid, without being too flashy–it might be the beginning they need. But they will have to do it without the backrower from Manly.

Papua New Guinea 50 Wales 6

If not the outcome most commentators had expected, the 50 point result is a barometer of how far ahead of the others, that PNG are. The Kumuls are tougher, and more refined than some will admit.

Captain David Mead became the first PNG player to score a hatrick in an RLWC match, but he is also the type of inspiration which might see the Kumuls sit highly in the playoff matches.

The only consolation for Wales was the final try to Regan Grace. He will feel very proud, and at least they did not get ‘down troued’ on the world stage.

New Zealand 38 Samoa 8

Was it perfect? No. They had issues, including poor completion and failure to kick-out penalty ball (schoolboy errors Johnson must remove from his game). Even dropped ball was a simple mistake just waiting to happen. But in the end, you had to admire the way that the Kiwis managed to complete their task.

Similarly to England and Australia, an injury has removed a little of the gloss from the Round One RLWC match. Gerard Beale has succumbed to a horrible injury that means his mates will need to carry on without him.

Toa Samoa may feel that they were matching the hosts to begin with, but in giving away 28 points over 40 minutes will affect that side’s campaign. They now have a short turnaround before the Tonga team test them again.

As much as the Samoa team can feel they were over-ridden in the 50-80 minute marks, they still have a forward pack to fear. How they quickly they recover, might go a way towards helping them be ready for Tonga.

Fiji 58 United States 12

Townsville was treated to a tryfest, where Jarryd Hayne equaled the Rugby League World Cup all-time try-scoring record. The Bati’s 11 tries was more than entertaining, it saw the team dancing in the sheds post-game.

With the USA Hawks only able to hang on through a tiny percentage of quality territory, the 38-6 lead at half-time was an embellishment. The Hawks were not that bad, but Fiji had good direction, and added another 20 points to show they could follow-on from a good start.

Even teams like the All Blacks can often fail to ‘finish off’ teams, so it was good for Fiji fans to edge past a big score early in the tournament.

The bad luck with injuries carried on, with Kane Evans breaking his wrist–a cruel Halloween trick? Most likely not, but it showed how every team must value their squad depth–as you do not know when a replacement is required.

Ireland 36 Italy 12

The Italian side might be the team leaving the weekend the most deflated. The Wolfhounds had fewer men from the NRL, fewer big names and were not fancied. All that made for the makings of a win for Italy–but no, it was the Irish who scored 14 points before the end of the first quarter.

These lower-tier games might be the most exciting ones of the tournament. Fans enter the ground, with no awareness of what might occur. All the points scored by Ireland will have been exciting, almost all from against the run of the game–as Italy seemed to be the side who were the more organized, in pre-tournament discussion.

So Italian fans will feel aggrieved that with all the talk, their players seemed unable to bridge the gap.

Liam Kay of Ireland celebrates a try with team mates during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup match between Ireland and Italy. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

To make matters worse for the Azzuri, Jack Johns left the field with an injury. This bad fortune continued, and teams like Italy cannot afford to lose much more of their strength.

Scotland 4 Tonga 50

The one game where predetermined judgement came entirely true. Tonga are 40 points better than Scotland–with all due respect. The outcome was fair, and it didn’t change anyone’s perception of both sides’ prospects.

Scotland had odds of $501 to defeat the Island team. While that was not a relative choice, the Scots were not negative. They challenged, but were quickly outclassed by better ballspeed and passing. The Tongans often have the ball on a string–miraculous passing at times.

Tonga certainly put their hands up; as did the Kiwi team. They declared “we are ready to begin the World Cup” and followed through on their promise. Player declarations aside, and make Pool B the most important-in regards to the finals placings.

And in Round Two, with Samoa taking on Tonga, is going to be sensational.

France 18 Lebanon 29

In some ways, the French side are the team who had a tough first-up fixture. They were not heralded for their record, but with the advice of Andrew Johns, they should have been prepared.

This was a match where one team scored, for the other to draw even. Lebanon scored, only for French gamebreaker Bastien Ader to level. The Cedars scored, only for Ader to match them yet again. It was tit-for-tat. A balanced match, only broken by the odd mistake.

It would take a man of the match effort by Mitchell Moses to break the match up. His experience counted, and the French could not control their ball. It was an exciting clash, and will be good for Brad Fittler and his Lebanon squad’s confidence.

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What Did Fans Learn After Round One RLWC?

Everything that fans presumed has panned out. Not that the sport is a ‘game by numbers’ but each of the winning sides achieved their results through planning and practice. The better prepared, and the best practised sides did well.

How well those sides continue, is up to them. With the positive result, they will find it easier to feel good about themselves, but complacency can occur at anytime. Who falls into that trap, might ruin their plans to reach the knock-out stages.

For the losers, looking at their mistakes and repairing them is critical. England, Samoa, Italy and Scotland must rebuild quickly in order to have any chance of recapturing a dream of playing in the Quarter Finals.

For the teams that go into Round Two RLWC matches with a positive attitude–no matter injuries or fitness–will go far.

And for fans, they have much, much more to expect from the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

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