Almanac Rugby League – Race for the Paul Barriere: Week 2, Fiji continue unbeaten run, challenges gain world-wide attention


The Rugby League World Cup is underway in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea with the former, represented by the Kangaroos, searching for an 11th title as they defend the Paul Barriere Trophy they won in 2013 at Old Trafford in Manchester. Week two of the tournament saw Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Fiji, and Tonga move to 2-0 with England and Italy each securing their first victory of the event.

Australia’s depth was on display as they dispatched France 52-6 on Friday night in Canberra with Cronulla edge forward Wade Graham crossing for four tries as the Kangaroos won ten tries to one. Sharks’ backrower Graham, who debuted for Australia in the tournament opener against England, is set to resume his spot on the bench after fellow right-edge forward Boyd Cordner was rested by coach Mal Meninga for this contest. Australia are also set to make changes across their halves/hooker combinations for the game against Lebanon with James Maloney to play a role and Ben Hunt possibly set to spend a period of the game relieving skipper Cameron Smith at hooker.

With five tries for the tournament so far Melbourne Storm flyer Suliasi Vunivalu showed his class as Fiji won their intra-group contest against Wales 72-6 on Sunday night in Townsville and they lead Group D comfortably heading into their final pool game against Italy (with a 90 point better differential than the Italians). Vunivalu crossed three times in far north Queensland with his first four-pointer an excellent use of the shoulder (which you can do on attack as opposed to when shoulder charging an opponent when you are the defender) as he bumped off his Welsh opposite. Mick Potter’s side are looking to at least match their 2013 result when they made the semi-finals.

Unless it’s a massive win for them in Canberra against Fiji, Cameron Ciraldo’s Italian side won’t progress to the last eight but Italy will be happy about their turnaround in form, beating the USA 46-0 in Sunday in Townsville. It was another game in which players on the fringes of the NRL showed their form and Italian hooker Joey Tramontana, elevated after starting off the bench in their defeat to Ireland in game one, did plenty to impress incoming coach Canterbury coach Dean Pay with the Bulldogs Under 20s skipper from last season scoring two tries and showing great game sense to help guide the Azzuri around the park.

Such is the nature of the tournament structure Samoa, who are yet to win, and Lebanon who face Australia on Saturday, will each likely make the knockout stages* with only one triumph but it’s the Cedars that look the better placed of the duo. Samoa haven’t led in any of their two games so far (38-8 v New Zealand, 32-18 v Tonga) and several players will sure to be targeted by Scotland when the two sides meet in Cairns with Samoan winger Ken Maumalo not having a happy day in Hamilton on Saturday. The Bravehearts have their own issues ahead of their final game in the tournament with three players sent home at they were thrashed 74-6 by New Zealand. The trio, including playmaker Danny Brough, were not sent home because of the margin of defeat, but due to the fact they were deemed too intoxicated to board the flight from Christchurch.

The cultural challenges or similar pre-match activities have been a highlight of the showpiece event so far, perhaps none more so than Sipi Tau (Tonga) v Siva Tau (Samoa) on Saturday in Hamilton (which was featured across ESPN’s social media platforms), but Australia’s ode was absent on Friday night in Canberra. Kangaroos’ assistant coach Michael Hagan joined Sky Sports Radio’s ‘Big Sports Breakfast Weekend’ on Sunday and noted the RISE ode and acknowledgement of country may return if the Aussies make the tournament decider, however Hagan said the only use of it so far in the opener against England was meant more as a ‘welcome to the tournament’ and it’s not something the ten-time world champions will do on a permanent basis, at least at this stage.

*Lebanon have a better points differential than France currently but Brad Fittler’s side could still miss out if France spring an upset over England or don’t suffer a heavy defeat and Lebanon do.

This RLWC 2017 wrap first appeared on From the sideline of sport.


About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.


  1. G’day Hamish i’ve enjoyed watching the RWLC. Not a rugby fan, but my better half is a Kiwi so we’re watching it together, though i daren’t mention Saturdays Tongan victory to her.

    Now i’m perplexed at the make up of the quarter finals. Why is Lebanon through to the quarters not Ireland? Lebanon won one match, the latter two so i would like some guidance how quarter final berths are allocated.


  2. Hi Glen. The tournament has 14 teams so there are two super pools each with four teams and three teams from each super pool progress to the quarters. They are created based on rankings with the theory the top six sides make it from those eight. There are two other pools of three and the winner of those pools take the last two QF spots. Each of the three-team pools play one crossover game with the other pool to ensure the same amount of pool games are played by each side.

    I plan to write more about some other ideas to improve the schedule in between but one team, Ireland as you mention, has lucked out in this regard. However their ranking will improve for next time so they could be in one of the the super pools. The main reason it was bought it was to avoid more thrashings in the group stage. It has positives and negatives but I think it’s produced a pretty good tournament to date..

    Pool standings below

    Hope that makes sense.

  3. Kia Ora Hamish.

    Thanks for that. Let me read it to make sense of it.

    Rugby, Is always a learning curve for me.


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