By GEOFF STEVENSON
ORGANISERS have allocated teams to their respective pools for October’s World Cup Nines this week with potential grudge matches across the draw. Hosts the NRL have actively pooled teams with a shared history in the code, guaranteeing some tense clashes during the tournament
Pacific pride will be on the line in Pool C with the Cook Island, Tonga, Fiji and Samoa grouped in what will be an all-Pacific playoff for a semi-final place. By intentionally pooling rival nations together, the NRL has ensured a Pacific nation will secure one semi-final spot and avoid the ‘big three’ on the way. Many argue this will provide a genuine opportunity for a Pacific nation to go on and win the tournament.
Rugby League European Federation countries make up Pool B where minnows such as Wales and Lebanon will hope to upset smoky France, and pool favourites England.
The United States may struggle in what they would consider a ‘pool of death’ against other Pool A nations Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Pool A is unique in that the top two (rather than just the winner) of the pool qualify for semi-final action, however the Hawks and Kumuls will need to cause an upset (or two) if they knock out either the Kiwis or Kangaroos.
The winner of Pool A will play the winner of Pool B in the first semi-final, while the second placed Pool A team play the winner of Pool C in semi-final two. If pool games go as expected the Kangaroos will play England and the Kiwis will play the winner of the Pacific pool in the semi-finals.
And while the big three nations look set to qualify beyond the pool stage, it would be foolhardy to suggest this will be a given. PNG have the potential to shake up Pool A, with one of the NRL’s brightest prospects in teenage Bronco Xavier Coates debuting for the Kumuls in this years Oceania Cup. The PNG team will also boast Wynnum Manly fullback Edene Gebbie who was signed by the South Sydney Rabbitohs last week on a two year deal.
Likewise the French will push for a semi-final place in Pool B with talent such as St Helens half Theo Fages and Wakefield’s new loan Morgan Escare displaying form this year that is in keeping with the up tempo style of Nines.
With 13 weeks to go until the tournament, Pacific nations are looking to sure up their squads while hoping to secure some dual-allegiance players such as Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Samoa/NZ), Payne Haas (Samoa/Australia) and David Fifita (Tonga/Australia).
The Pacific teams will also have some of the form players of this NRL season to call on with Samoa likely to select Melbourne’s Marion Seve, and the Knights top try scorer Hymel Hunt, while Tonga will welcome form Bulldog Will Hopoate, Broncos centre Kotoni Staggs and the Cowboys John Asiata (who has also previously played for Samoa).
The Eels; Brad Takairangi, who led the Cook Islands to a World Cup qualifier victory against South Africa in June, will provide star power for the Kukis.
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