After yesterday’s shock win for Fiji over New Zealand and Lebanon pushing Tonga all the way to the final hooter, nerves would have been shredded in the England dressing room as they came up against a passionate and fanatically supported Papua New Guinea in the last quarter final.
PNG took an unbeaten record in the group stages to Melbourne along with a massive points difference bolstered by a 64-0 win over the USA last weekend.
England had Sam Burgess back in the line-up after two games out through injury and last weeks experiment of Gareth Widdop at full-back with Kevin Brown and Luke Gale in the halves was repeated by coach Wayne Bennett.
A semi-final against favourites Australia awaited the winner of the third quarter final between New Zealand and Fiji at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand. The Kiwis came into the game as strong favourites with few giving the flamboyant Fiji any chance of progressing.
Fiji were unbeaten in the competition with a very impressive +140 points difference, and New Zealand showed that they are fallible with last weekends surprise loss to Tonga.
The prospect was for an open game with many neutrals looking for a great Fiji performance after they named an unchanged side after their 38-10 win over Italy last weekend.
The highly impressive, and fancied, Tonga faced the challenge of makeweights Lebanon as the looked to secure a semi-final spot at the Christchurch Stadium.
Tonga won all of their games in the group stages, including that stunning win over New Zealand last weekend whereas Lebanon have just an opening weekend win over France to their name and they came into today’s game after suffering a 34-0 defeat at the hands of Australia last week.
The bookies set their odds in the certainty that it would be Tonga who would progress.
The TIO Stadium in Darwin was the venue as hosts Australia opened the knockout stage of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup with what looked he easiest of games against a Samoa side who have struggled in the competition and progressed to this stage with just a single draw.
While the Kangaroos have cruised through their fixtures in the group stages, Samoa have been comprehensively beaten by New Zealand and Tonga while securing their quarter final spot with an unconvincing draw against Scotland which allowed them to progress with a better points difference.
There could only be one victor, the bookies and pundits all agreed, the Green and Gold.
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The maths were simple as England took on France in the second game of the Perth double-header. A French win by sixteen points would see them overtake Lebanon for third place, and a quarter final place, and thirty-two to overtake England into second. An unthinkable forty-seven point French victory would put England on the plane home.
Coach Wayne Bennett sprang a few surprises in the England line-up as he looked to give a run out to some of his squad players and offer them a chance to play themselves into the quarter final seventeen.
Expectations were high that England would discover some World Cup form.
It was the battle of the Celts in the first of a double-header in Perth as John Kears winless Wales came up against Mark Aston’s Ireland side in the final game of the World Cup for both sides.
Even though both sides would be going home at the final hooter there was still pride, local bragging rights and future international places to play for. There were plenty of familiar names on show from both Super League and the Championship.
Wales needed a sixty-four point winning margin to finish ahead of the Irish but that looked a very difficult ask against an Irish side who have impressed in their opening two games.
The heat of Port Moresby was the venue as the Kumuls took on the Tomahawks looking the cement their place in the semi-finals.
A win for Papua New Guinea, much fancied by the bookies and pundits, would see them into a quarter final game, most likely against England. The ground was packed to the rafters with a deafening and partisan support hoping the cheer their side home.
The third game of the day saw the World Cups lowest ranked side Lebanon take on the top rated Australia. None of the pundits or bookies gave Brad Fittler’s Lebanon any chance of an upset and expected the host nation to sweep into the semi-finals with an unbeaten record.
Sydney Football Stadium was the venue and the crowd was bolstered by a good crowd supporting Lebanon. The Cedars were looking for a repeat of their great opening game form when the beat France and Australia were looking for a professional and clinical performance.
Progress in the competition was up for grabs as Samoa faced Scotland in a ‘winner goes through game at Barlow Park in Cairns. The winners would likely face Australia in the quarter finals with the losers packing their bags and heading home.
Scotland were without captain Danny Brough, who had been sent home from the World Cup after a post-match incident last weekend. After conceding one hundred and twenty four points in their opening two fixtures the Scots were the firm underdogs.