Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga believes the upcoming IRL World Cup can take the international game to a new level as he identified Samoa, Tonga and Fiji as genuine threats to Australia’s hopes of retaining the Paul Barrière Trophy.
The Kangaroos will go into the end of season tournament without having played for three years since their 16-12 loss to Tonga in 2019 and Meninga said the growing strength of the Pacific nations would ensure the World Cup yet.
While New Zealand are No.1 in the IRL World Rankings and hosts England only lost 6-0 in the 2017 World Cup final against Australia, Meninga said the number of NRL stars in the Samoa, Tonga and Fiji teams ensured they could not be discounted.
The Kiwis and Kangaroos are on a collision course to meet in the November 12 semi-final at Elland Road, while England, Samoa and Tonga are on the opposite side of the draw.
Asked which nations he saw as the biggest danger to Australia’s World Cup prospects, Meninga told the RLWC2021 podcast, This is Impact, the “usual suspects” – England and New Zealand – but added that the Pacific nations also posed a threat.
“Tonga is starting to make enormous inroads into the international space, I believe Samoa if they get their act together they will be dangerous and Fiji has made the semi-finals of the last couple of World Cups,” Meninga said.
🇹🇴🇫🇷 More World Cup warm-ups confirmed!
Tonga and France will prepare for RLWC2021 with a pre-tournament game in Halifax.
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) August 11, 2022
If Meninga’s predictions are right, the World Cup will be the most competitive since France hosted the inaugural tournament in 1954 and he said he said it would provide a platform to grow international rugby league.
The Women’s and Wheelchair World Cups are being played alongside the Men’s tournament and Meninga said the anticipation in Australia was building.
“It’s a chance to reboot the international game and give it a higher profile,” Meninga said. “With so much inclusiveness around what we are doing, around the wheelchair, the women and the men, it is the perfect time to do that.
“We have got some of the greatest athletes on earth, so I am really excited about being involved. Everyone is on board, the players are on board and when get over here [England] we will all want to do well so I am really excited by it all.
“I talk to the players and I can’t tell you how excited they are about wanting to come over. We haven’t been anywhere for three years and my team, most of them would never have toured before. Most of them would have been around Australia or the Pacific, and that’s it.”
Meninga said he supported the decision to postpone the World Cup by 12 months from last year until October and November due to the COVID-19 pandemic and believed the tournament would be stronger.
“I fully understood it and talking to players over in Australia we all wanted the World Cup to get going last year but there was just a time and place where sense prevailed and I felt it was the right decision.
“Lo and behold nearly 12 months later everyone is feeling better about it and everyone is looking forward to it. There is a real yearning at the moment, which is why we want to come over here and provide the best for the fans.
“Rugby league had huge social impact in Australia because we were the only sport that kept going. Our [ARLC] executive made some really tough decisions and we kept it on TV where people at home were watching and I think we grew our audience.
“The timing is perfect now because we have got a greater audience watching our game so it is a really important tournament for us as a sport if we can put on a spectacle through the World Cup.”