WITH the NRL season packed away until March, rugby league fanatics will be tonguing for more when the World Cup kicks off in the UK at the weekend.

Fittingly the opening game will be between old foes England and Australia, and will be played at the magnificent Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

Incredibly, Australia is the $1.35 favourite with the Poms listed at $8 while the cup holders, the Kiwis, are paying $4.

Any punter who doesn't see those odds for New Zealand as extremely juicy obviously didn't watch the NRL final series.

Because of the undeniable strength of the NRL, clearly any Kangaroos team selected will be powerful and the 26-man Australian squad is that.

But it won't have the Kiwis, or the Poms for that matter, hiding in the corner.

The Kangaroo forwards appear really light on and there is a notable absence of scare factor in the ranks.

The likes of James Tamou, Matt Scott and Sam Thaiday, who had average finishes to the season, will need to up the ante big time to match the sheer size and brutality of both the New Zealand and England packs.

Another concern for the Aussies is a distinct lack of recent match practise.

Between them, grand finalists the Roosters and Sea Eagles have just three players in the squad while the Rabbitohs and Knights, eliminated the previous week, have only one each.

Conversely the Kiwis had eight players involved in the two final weekends of the NRL finals, and even the Poms had the three Burgess brothers.

The lack of recent match practice is a negative the Kangaroos have rarely faced previously in these end-of-season tournaments and merely emphasises the current Kiwi and Pacific Island influence in the NRL.

As much as I love to see the Aussie flag flying high and proud, I compare our forward pack to the probable Kiwi starting six of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Issac Luke, Jesse Bromwich, Simon Mannering, Frank Pritchard and Sonny Bill Williams and I'm not exactly buoyed.

And with Sam Kasiano and Ben Matulino waiting in the wings for the Kiwis, the word awesome comes to mind.

In fact, a team of players not in the UK for one reason or another would give the selected Australian side a run for its money - Ben Barba, Michael Gordon, Justin Hodges, Jamie Lyon, Blake Ferguson, Todd Carney, Mitchell Pearce, Tim Grant, Kurt Gidley, Ryan James, Anthony Watmough, Ryan Hoffman, Glenn Stewart, Jarod Mullen, Trent Merrin, Dave Taylor, Aaron Woods.

Coach Tim Sheens has a massive job to do, not just to get his squad up to speed form-wise, but to gel those players still bitter and twisted from one of the most hostile Origin series in memory.

If the Kangaroos can lift the World Cup trophy this time, it will be a momentous achievement.



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