Rugby League Expert & Columnist @RLBarrieMc10
Barrie McDermott previews the World Cup quarter-finals
Last Updated: 19/11/17 7:11am
Barrie McDermott looks ahead to this weekend's Rugby League World Cup quarter-final matches and tells us who he thinks will progress to the next round...
So, the group phase is done and dusted - and the World Cup quarter-final line-up is now confirmed.
Ireland, Scotland and Wales are all back home - but I thought Liam Finn and his team were really unfortunate to exit the tournament, having won two and narrowly lost their third match.
Creating an international format is always difficult - but I feel sorry for the Irish, who will feel hard done by; their departure is a real shame, given what the Wolfhounds brought to the competition.
Having been involved in Four Nations tournaments, Wales and Scotland will obviously be disappointed. Neither could manage a win, with only one draw to show between them. It's a kick in the teeth for both organisations - but we learnt again that at this level, recruitment is key.
England have got progressively better through this tournament. Yes, Wayne Bennett's team selection has been inconsistent - but sometimes it's more important to keep everyone happy, and maintain morale by giving every squad member his opportunity, a shot at a spot.
Although I believe it's a real shame the Papua New Guinea quarter-final will not be played in Port Moresby, rewarding the Kumuls' three sell-outs so far, I definitely believe that makes it advantage England in Melbourne - but perhaps the powers-that-be should think about a Great Britain team visiting PNG in the near future, perhaps en route to an Ashes Tour.
England are not an 80-minute team just yet - but the correct strides are being made, and competition for places is exactly what's needed. For me, Jermaine and Big Al are nailed on, with Roby and Hodgson again sharing the hooking role; there was a lot to like with Widdop at fullback last week, and although George Williams hasn't really had an opportunity to shine just yet, I believe Kevin Brown should keep his spot. Yes, his club form last season was scratchy - but I believe he's got the pedigree, confidence, and professionalism to do a job again.
Michael Marum will surely feel even a slightly unfit Garry Lo is worth the gamble; the Castleford man, alongside the likes of David Mead, and Adrian Lam's son Lachlan, have made PNG a good team to watch in this World Cup. England have their work cut out - but I expect them to progress.
Obviously, Australia were favourites before a ball was kicked - and I've seen nothing to change that.
Samoa are lucky to be in the last eight; although Ben Roberts and Joseph Leilua have been outstanding as their key men, I don't think they have enough class throughout their 1-17 to cope with the Kangaroos - Mal Meninga's men by 30 for me.
New Zealand have not quite got there yet in this tournament; last week's defeat to a Jason Taumalolo-inspired Tonga will really have hurt the Kiwis. David Kidwell's men have the unenviable task of finding some form - and against a fast, skilful Fijian side who can score from anywhere, I reckon this will be the closest of the quarters. I daren't back against the world champions of nine years ago - but it wouldn't surprise me if Jarryd Hayne led the Bati to a famous victory.
Which leaves Tonga v Lebanon - and I fear a one-sided contest. The Cedars have had a good tournament with very limited resources - and I'm sure Brad Fittler has done his claims for the NSW Origin job no harm at all.
In Mitchell Moses, they have a stand-off who would fit right into a Super League team - but Kristian Woolf's men have an impressive mix of power in the middle, and on the edges; they're an explosive, well-rounded side.
That's just about it - but before I go, a big well done to England Women, who won their World Cup opener against PNG in the final match of Sydney's triple header - Bradford wing Charlotte Booth went over twice, as the Lionesses won by seven tries to three.
Bring on the Aussies!