Five years ago New Zealand shocked the rugby league world by defeating Australia in their own backyard in the final of the Rugby League World Cup. The overwhelming underdogs facing the six-times consecutive winners, the Kiwis recorded one of their greatest sporting achievements and demonstrated that the silver fern rules in all forms of the game.
Whilst they enter the 2013 Rugby League World Cup as defending champions, New Zealand know that once again their Antipodean neighbours are the pre-tournament favourites for an unheralded tenth title. In the second of our RLWC previews, we put the spotlight under them to look at their chances with less than three weeks to go.
Earlier this week, Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney announced his 24-man squad and there was only one name which got everyone talking – the surprise omission of star player, Sonny Bill Williams. Having played in the Sydney Roosters NRL Grand Final triumph on Sunday and widely tipped for a return to rugby union, Sonny himself announced that he would be unavailable due to ‘other commitments’. Having already helped the All Blacks win the 2011 Rugby World Cup, it had even been rumoured he may play a part in their autumn tests when they hit the northern hemisphere.
Having had a change of heart however and making himself available, SBW has now been added to New Zealand’s World Cup squad ahead of the tournament starting on October 26th. Coach Kearney has chosen Melbourne Storms Tohu Harris as the man to be sacrificed in order to accommodate Williams, a decision which should ultimately improve their chances but cause create a rift in the way Harris was treated.
Elsewhere in the New Zealand squad and there is still have plenty of talent at their disposal, including prop Sam Moa (pictured below) who after eight caps for Tonga has switched nationalities and coincidently will play against them in the group stages. Also named in the squad is Roosters wing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck who has received his first call-up whilst ex-Wigan half-back Thomas Leuluai has also been included.
New Zealand are certainly not short of experience on the big stage as five of the players feature for newly crowned NRL Champions the Sydney Roosters. They will certainly need these big game players as the absence of Benji Marshall, having switched codes, Jeremy Smith for personal reasons and Kenny-Dowall after picking up a fractured jaw at the weekend, means that the squad will need to show the same spirit of five years ago and then some.
So what of the actual chances of New Zealand retaining their title? Paired up with Samoa, France and Papua New Guinea in Group B, the Kiwis will be expected to win their group which will then set up a tie against either Scotland, Tonga or Italy. If all goes according to plan the semi-finals are where things will get really interesting as Australia or England could await for a place in the final at Old Trafford at stake on November 30th.
Realistically New Zealand will do well to get to the final, with Australia the dominant force in rugby league and England buoyed by their home support, the most likely scenario is that they will be returning home having relinquished their title but still put up a good fight. That said, the same was said five years ago and you would be a brave man to completely rule them out of contention.
New Zealand squad for the Rugby League World Cup:
Jesse Bromwich (Melbourne Storm), Greg Eastwood (Canterbury Bulldogs), Kieran Foran (Manly Sea Eagles), Alex Glenn (Brisbane Broncos), Bryson Goodwin (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Josh Hoffman (Brisbane Broncos), Krisnan Inu (Canterbury Bulldogs), Shaun Johnson (NZ Warriors), Sam Kasiano (Canterbury Bulldogs), Thomas Leuluai (NZ Warriors), Kevin Locke (NZ Warriors), Issac Luke (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Simon Mannering (NZ Warriors), Ben Matulino (NZ Warriors), Sam Moa (Sydney Roosters), Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra Dragons), Frank-Paul Nu’uausala (Sydney Roosters), Frank Pritchard (Canterbury Bulldogs), Elijah Taylor (NZ Warriors), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Sydney Roosters), Manu Vatuvei (NZ Warriors), Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Sydney Roosters), Dean Whare (Penrith Panthers), Sonny Bill Williams (Sydney Roosters).
Show off your pride and support for your nation with our collection of international rugby league shirts ready to be worn for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.