THE three hosts of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup kicked off their tournament with opening weekend victories, but the first round also saw a couple of interesting upsets.
Australia got things underway with a hard-fought 18-4 win against England in Melbourne, as reported in the weekend Star, before New Zealand saw off Samoa on Saturday with an impressive second-half display resulting in a 38-8 triumph against their Polynesian rivals.
Earlier in the day Papua New Guinea had set a new benchmark for the tournament with a convincing 50-6 win against Wales on home soil in Port Moresby.
An enthusiastic crowd of 14,800 turned out to see their country play the first of their three matches at the National Football Stadium, and upcoming opponents Ireland and the United States will now be wary of the struggle they face in the hot and humid climate.
Rugby league is the national sport in Papua New Guinea and a good showing from the side nicknamed the Kumuls, after the bird of paradise native to the island, would light up the tournament.
Former England captain Kevin Sinfield had described playing against them as “like hitting lampposts” during his preview of the game, and Wales had first-hand confirmation of this in their opening match.
Fiji also impressed in their first game with a 58-12 dismantling of the United States in Townsville. Towering winger Suliasi Vunivalu was one of the stars for the Fijians, crossing for a brace of tries and showing early signs that he could be one of the players of the tournament.
A hat-trick from Michael Jennings saw Tonga ease past Scotland on Sunday, while Ireland became the only team from the British Isles to secure a win in the first round of the competition with an impressive 36-12 victory against pre-match favourites Italy.
The Irish are a solid squad made up of a number of Super League players, and are next up to face the Papua New Guinean test on Sunday which could be one of the games of the weekend.
One of the unexpected games of the first-round was the clash between France and Lebanon, where vice-captain and halfback Mitchell Moses led the latter to 29-18 win — their first in a World Cup.
“I had that Lebanese background and I was going to come play for Lebanon, but I didn’t know how much it meant to all the other boys,” Moses said afterwards.
“They told a couple of stories on where they’ve come from and how they’ve worked to get it. It was really touching. That was why it was big — you could see the passion after the game.”
England will have to be on their guard when they face Moses and his side when the action resumes down under this weekend.
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