Preview of the Rugby League World Cup Final

Australia should be about 13 point favourites to beat New Zealand in the final of the Rugby League World Cup on collateral form so the underdogs should be opposed with an eight point start in the match at Old Trafford on Saturday. Australia have won their matches in the tournament to date  by an average winning margin that is 13 points greater than that of their opponents at the weekend.

In the last World Cup final five years ago Australia were 10 point favourites. That match was played in the city of Brisbane but home advantage did not prevent Australia losing the match against New Zealand by 34 points to 20. The contest was evenly poised midway through the second half but an error at that time proved crucial and handed the initiative to New Zealand and that side took full advantage.

Two opposing players in the match are in contention to be voted International Player of the Year. Greg Inglis for Australia and Sonny Bill Williams from New Zealand are shortlisted with Danny Brough of Huddersfield for the honour. The outcome of the World Cup final could determine who wins the award.

Sonny Bill Williams is arguably the greatest sportsman in the world as he has competed at an elite level in three sports. If he helps New Zealand win the World Cup he will become the only rugby player to be a world champion in both formats of the game. He is also the current New Zealand heavyweight boxing champion.

Greg Inglis (pictured below) plays fullback for South Sydney in the NRL. He scored 14 tries for the club last season and he was also a try scorer for Queensland against New South Wales in the State of Origin series. He was also a scorer against New   Zealand in 2013 ANZAC Test. A score in the final of the World Cup would complete the set.

gregAustralia and New Zealand have both won each of the five matches played in the tournament to date. Australia have scored 238 points and conceded 22 while New Zealand’s scoring record is for 206 and against 56. That means Australia average winning margin has been 43 points while the equivalent figure for their opponents is 30. Therefore, on the basis of collateral form Australia should be 13 point favourites.

Both finalists have beaten England in this World Cup and Australia had the easier win. Despite falling behind 10-0 in the first 20 minutes of the group game Australia were ultimately worth more than the 28-20 victory over England. New Zealand beat England in their semi-final 20-18 but only scored the decisive try in the last minute.

New Zealand were about 10 seconds away from elimination against England but benefited from two avoidable errors to score the crucial try. They were running out of plays before England conceded a penalty but took advantage of more possession by running in a try with next to no time left on the clock.

Australia beat Fiji 64-0 in their semi-final. Both last four matches were played at Wembley in a double header. Several England players were still distraught on the pitch as the Aussies began to prepare for their match. The men representing the hosts will now only be able to watch the final on television or at Old Trafford. The match is virtually a sell-out but most fans would have been supporting England so now the majority of spectators will be neutrals.

The Rugby League World Cup was first staged in 1954 and there have been 12 renewals since then. The competition has never had a fixed date in the calendar as on some occasions there has been a three year gap between tournaments and at other times eight years have passed between successive competitions. For example there was a World Cup in 2000 but not another for eight years. The event is now on a four year cycle and France are the next hosts in 2017.

Australia, France and New Zealand are the only teams to have not missed a tournament. Only Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain have been world champions. Australia are by far the most successful side with nine wins. Great Britain were ever present before a split into England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland in 1995.

Since the start of 2000 Australia have played New Zealand in 29 Tests. They have won 23, lost 4 and there have been two draws. Australia have won the last six matches, including twice away from home. The last match at a neutral venue was in 2011 when Australia beat their neighbours 26-12 in the Four Nations at Warrington. New Zealand have won the latest two fixtures at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, including the World Cup final five years ago.

One of the two draws in this fixture since the start of the millennium was in a Four Nations match in England in 2009. The only other tie was in 2004 in a match played in New Zealand. That side’s last win against Australia was in the ANZAC Test match in 2012. Since 2000 both sides have won a World Cup final against the other. New Zealand won the 2008 final and Australia the final eliminator in 2000.

In the last six matches between the sides which Australia have won, Australia have scored 158 points and conceded 62. That means Australia’s average winning margin in these matches has been 16 points, another fact which suggests the bookmakers have not given New Zealand a substantial enough head start. That means backing the favourites with a handicap is preferred to following the underdogs with a start.

New Zealand have the best player in the world in Sonny Bill Williams (pictured below) in their side but the  Kangaroos also have several world class talents in their best 13. Williams will be looking to set up scoring plays with his passing and offloads but he is also a brilliant defender. However, if he focuses on one player other Australians are good enough to dominate the match and that is one of several reasons why Australia should be backed to overcome an eight point deficit.

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