RLWC: Group-by-group guide
Ian Laybourn's group-by-group guide to the 2013 Rugby Legue World Cup.
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Group A (England, Australia, Fiji, Ireland).
With three teams to go through to the knockout stages, the fascinating sideshow will take place at Rochdale on the first Tuesday when Ireland and Fiji renew their rivalry from 2008.
The Irish were one of the success stories in Australia but were denied a fairytale clash with the hosts in the last four by the Fijians, who beat them 30-14 in a semi-final qualifier on the Gold Coast.
Ireland will need a big contribution from 2010 Super League Man of Steel Pat Richards, one of their heroes five years ago, if they are to match their 2000 feat in reaching the quarter-finals. Winger Akuila Uate is the Fijians' star man.
The winner of that match will almost certainly be paired with the runners-up from Group B.
The big clash between England and Australia will get the show on the road under the Millennium Stadium roof and the winners will most likely get to avoid a meeting with New Zealand in the semi-finals.
Fixtures - Oct 26: Australia v England (Cardiff); Oct 28: Fiji v Ireland (Rochdale); Nov 2: England v Ireland (Huddersfield) and Australia v Fiji (St Helens); Nov 9: England v Fiji (Hull) and Australia v Ireland (Limerick).
Group B (New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, France, Samoa).
Three to go through and it could be a close call for the second two spots behind holders New Zealand, who should be too strong for all their group opponents, especially with Sonny Bill Williams in their line-up.
After becoming the first player to win the Rugby World Cup, Super Rugby title and NRL grand finals, Williams will now attempt to become the first player to win World Cups in both codes.
France badly under-performed in 2008 and, although they have home advantage in two of their group games, they may struggle once more despite the shrewd appointment of Englishman Richard Agar as coach and an ability to field a virtual Catalan Dragons outfit.
Injured former Kiwi centre Steve Matai is a loss for Samoa but they can still boast a wealth of experience and will be strongly fancied to take the runners-up spot while Papua New Guinea will be crowd favourites and are sure to unearth more talent for English clubs to pick up for 2014.
Fixtures - Oct 27: Papua New Guinea v France (Hull KR) and New Zealand v Samoa (Warrington); Nov 1: New Zealand v France (Avignon); Nov 4: Papua New Guinea v Samoa (Hull KR); Nov 8: New Zealand v Papua New Guinea (Leeds); Nov 11: France v Samoa (Perpignan).
Group C (Tonga, Scotland, Italy).
Only one to go through to the last eight but Scotland have Danny Brough to lead them and England's loss will definitely be their gain, especially if can quickly strike an understanding with half-back partner Peter Wallace.
Italy, who open with a cross-group clash with Wales in Cardiff, suffered a blow with the loss of Terry Campese but can still boast crucial NRL experience in the shape of skipper Anthony Minicheillo, his brother Mark and full-back James Tedesco, who had a big year with Wests Tigers.
Even without Tony Williams, Anthony Tupou, Richie Fa'aoso and Willie Tonga who are all injured, and former Hull front-rower Sam Moa, who was called up by New Zealand, the Tongans look awesome and will be firm favourites to go through to a mouth-watering quarter-final with the Kiwis.
Only four of the 24-strong squad have no NRL experience and, while most eyes will be on Super League trio Willie Manu (St Helens), Mickey Paea (Hull KR) and Ukuma Ta'ai (Huddersfield), watch out for blockbusting centre Konrad Hurrell, who opted to play for Tonga before New Zealand came calling.
Fixtures - Oct 29: Tonga v Scotland (Workington); Nov 3: Scotland v Italy (Workington), Nov 10: Tonga v Italy (Halifax).
Group D (Wales, United States, Cook Islands).
Wales ought to take the qualifying spot, and with it a quarter-final clash with England or Australia, but their real big test will come on the opening day when they meet a strong Italian outfit in their cross-group game.
The Cook Islands can call on Wigan's Anthony Gelling and former Bradford centre Keith Lulia but the rest of the squad will be something of an unknown quantity.
The United States' former Castleford coach Terry Matterson has arguably the toughest job, stepping into the breach following the sudden, late withdrawal of Brian Smith, who was himself a replacement for Matthew Elliott.
The Tomahawks selectors caused a furore by ignoring a host of local players, especially skipper Apple Pope, but the presence of his successor Joseph Paulo, alongside brother Junior, will give Matterson's men some hope.
Fixtures - Oct 30: United States v Cook Islands (Bristol); Nov 3: Wales v United States (Wrexham), Nov 10: Wales v Cook Islands (Neath).
Inter-group fixtures - Oct 26: Wales v Italy; Nov 5: Tonga v Cook Islands (Leigh); Nov 7: Scotland v United States (Salford).
Quarter-finals - Nov 15 (Leeds): winner group B v winner Group C; Nov 16 (Wrexham): winner Group A v winner Group D; Nov 16 (Wigan): runner-up Group A v third place Group B; Nov 17 (Warrington): runner-up Group B v third place Group A.