Bet on Brett to star

  • By: Ian Millward
  • Last Updated: October 22 2013, 13:04 BST

Our rugby league pundit Ian Millward previews the forthcoming World Cup and picks out his quarter-finalists.

Brett Morris: Expect to see him cross for plenty of tries
Brett Morris: Expect to see him cross for plenty of tries

Group A:
I'm really warming to Australia after seeing the squad they've selected. They've gone with the predictable tried and tested players but also thrown in some emerging young stars. They go into the tournament with the best full-back in the game in Billy Slater, stand-off in Jonathan Thurston, scrum-half Cooper Cronk and hooker Cameron Smith.

It says an awful lot about their strength in depth that Cronk is under pressure with some back home calling for Daly Cherry-Evans to replace him.

Also watch out for Andrew Fifita in the forwards. He's from Cronulla, is a big man with a great offload, speed and footwork. He's going to be really difficult for opposing defences to handle.

If Greg Inglis stays fit, and he has been battling a knee injury, then the Kagaroos can count on the best centre in the tournament. All in all this looks an outstanding Australian side. They may be slowly out of the blocks but will improve with each passing week and look a good bet to rule the world again.

England will run second in this group. They have a pack of forwards that can match any other in the tournament but will they come up to scratch in the halves? I have my doubts and the lack of a genuine strike centre is another concern.

Fiji will run third and watch out for Akuila Uate - he's an excitement machine - something always happens when he has the ball. He's always likely to score a try or two and will be looking for a huge performance against Australia as he did qualify to play for them.

Ireland have a core of players who've plied their trade in either Super League or the Championship. They'll work hard but lack the quality of the other three teams - on paper at least.

Group B
Papua New Guinea will be the entertainers in this section. Expect plenty of fireworks whenever they play but they lack size and will leak too many points for their coach's liking.

France will be more workmanlike and have a squad made up mainly of players from the Catalan Dragons and their own domestic competition. The familiarity will help them gel quickly but I look at the side and do wonder if they have enough punch to win crucial games?

For that reason I'm siding with Samoa to finish second. You have to like the look of their squad - it's packed full of NRL experience. Anthony Milford is a player I'm expecting to make a big impression on the tournament. He's a kid from Canberra who's equally at home in the halves or full-back and is a very, very exciting talent. He comes here off the back of his debut season in the NRL where he's been outstanding.

It's New Zealand who'll top the group - with their game against Samoa the toughest hurdle to cross. There's a bitter rivalry between the two but the fact Sonny Bill Williams is now available is a huge boost. He's an absolute superstar and it will be great for British fans to get a chance to see him in the flesh. When he's running the ball on the edge of the ruck his height and ability to free his arms in a tackle make him a very, very difficult opponent.

He kick-started the Roosters season back in the NRL this year and is a prodigious talent. Team-mate Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is another wonderful player, a winger with the ability to step off either the left of right foot. He's great at outleaping opponents for the ball and with the giant Manu Vatuvei on the other flank, it's easy to see what New Zealand's last-tackle tactics are going to be. They'll score points - and lots of them.

Group C:
Tonga beat Samoa in a keenly-contested game in Australia in April - and they will really fancy themselves to top this group and reach the semi-finals.

They've good reason to as well given they have a squad brimming with talent including the likes of Fuifui Moimoi and Super League players Willie Manu, Mickey Paea and Ukuma Ta'ai.

Other names to look out for are Konrad Hurrell from the New Zealand Warriors and Sydney Roosters' Daniel Tupu. The former is a centre from Newcastle Knights who is small in stature but a huge talent. He's very strong defensively and hard to contain close to the line.

Tupu is an outstanding young back who has had a great season in the NRL. He'll score plenty of tries and Italy and Scotland could be on the receiving end.

I'd expect Scotland to beat Italy and claim the runner-up spot. Danny Brough is their headline star in their side but there's plenty of decent NRL talent in the squad too.

I did think Italy might just have their measure but the loss of Terry Campese is a huge blow as he's a massive talent at stand-off. They still have some very familiar faces in the likes of Anthony Minichiello and Craig Gower but there's a lot of non-NRL players from Australia too. They could take just too long to gel.

Group D:
The Cook Islands are coached by David Fairleigh who I worked with at St Helens. It's a straight match-up between them and Wales to reach the quarters and I'll go with the men from the South Sea Islands.

They have the ability to score points and that will make the difference. They have a host of good attacking players and some rising stars. Dylan Napa will add steel to the forwards. He's a young player from the Roosters who's got a lot of bang in defence - he can intimidate opponents.

Wales are odds on to top the group but the failure to tempt Lee Briers out of international retirement was a blow. They have quality in some positions but equally look short of it in others.

USA are the final side in the group and I do fear they'll struggle to win a match. The likes of Clint Newton will always compete but they look to lack experience through several key areas.

Verdict:
Australia are my choice to regain the World Cup - their biggest problem will be England in the first game. If Steve McNamara's men jump out of the blocks they could catch Tim Sheen's troops cold.

I did think England were a solid bet to make the final but Sonny Bill Williams' inclusion swings the balance New Zealand's way.

As for leading try scorer look no further than Brett Morris. He's prolific in the NRL and State of Origin and is a genuine winger who knows his way to the line. He plays on the same side of the field as Michael Jennings, an outstanding centre, and it's the area Jonathan Thurston likes to go to with his big attacking plays.

  • Posted at 1305 BST on 22/10/2013.