Australia and New Zealand set for a mouth-watering World Cup semi-final

It is arguably the most appetizing semi-final in Rugby League World Cup history, and both Australia and New Zealand coaches believe they have the quality to book their place in next weekend’s final with victory at Elland Road on Friday night.

The two nations that have won the last nine World Cups meet in Leeds, with a place in the final against England or Samoa, who meet on Saturday, offered to the winner. It’s rare for the sport’s two Antipodean heavyweights to meet in the semi-finals, but because Australia have fallen to fourth in the official world rankings – largely due to their lack of desire to play in the league rugby international since the 2017 World Cup – only one of the Kangaroos or the Kiwis will make the final.

Only three of the new Australian teams have ever played in a World Cup semi-final. That, coupled with a rough second-half performance against Lebanon last Friday, has left some wondering if there is a rare loophole of vulnerability in the reigning world champions that the Kiwis could exploit. But Australia head coach Mal Meninga insists his side are ready for what is likely to be their first real test, having reached the last four so far.

“It’s a big game for Australia because it’s a World Cup,” Meninga said. “We haven’t been in this situation for a long time. It’s a special game, so there’s a natural progression of intensity and you want to come prepared. Everyone is fully aware of the enormity of the challenge before us. It’s a big game for this team. »

Australia have missed just one final in World Cup history; in the inaugural edition of the tournament in 1954. Meanwhile, New Zealand survived an all-powerful scare against Fiji in the quarter-finals last weekend to reach the last four, but Meninga thinks that makes Kiwis a much tougher threat than some think.

“It probably reset their motivations around the tournament,” he said. “Without being disrespectful, it’s been a pretty easy ride for most of the top teams. It made them realize they need to kneel down and prepare for this. They won’t need any motivation to succeed. This will be a fantastic game. But that’s the first step. We want to play well tomorrow night and win. Then we want to move on and win the World Cup.

New Zealand coach Michael Maguire has echoed Meninga’s confidence in his own group of players as the Kiwis look to cause a shock and end Australia’s World Cup dominance. “We have a really strong squad and a lot of players have played in real big games,” he said. “We knew a while ago that this game had to happen to qualify for the final. We can not wait to be there.

The winners of Friday’s semi-final will face either England or Samoa in the final at Old Trafford next Saturday. The hosts have made just one change to the side that beat Papua New Guinea with Canterbury’s Luke Thompson to replace St Helens stalwart Matty Lees on the England bench for the half. Saturday’s final at the Emirates Stadium.

Samoa successfully overturned a one-game suspension for their captain, Junior Paulo, at a hearing earlier this week to release him to play in the game. They are expected to make minimal changes on their end as they seek to avenge the 60-6 loss in the opening match at St James’ Park a month ago, and deprive the hosts of a place in the final for the first time on home soil since 1995.

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