The Championship season might be coming to an end but there’s still plenty of life left in the rugby league year as the World Cup is just around the corner.
On October 15, England kick off the tournament against Samoa at St James’ Park in what promises to be a game that sets the tone for the rest of the World Cup.
For the first time ever, the men’s, women’s and wheelchair World Cups will be played simultaneously in the same country.
That means there will be plenty of matches to watch, with all games covered live on BBC.
Autumn is always a good time to bet on rugby union games, but you’ll also have the Rugby League World Cup to have a flutter on too.
Who are the contenders?
World Cup chief Jon Dutton said recently that he believes there are five genuine contenders to win the competition.
Australia have won 11 of the previous 15 editions of the men’s tournament, while New Zealand’s triumph in 2008 is the only time Australia haven’t won it since Great Britain lifted the trophy in 1972.
Tonga have been one of the stories of international rugby league in recent years, with their historic win over Australia in 2019 following victories over GB and New Zealand.
It was unfortunate perhaps that the pandemic came when it did, as it could have seen a boom for international competition.
As well as those four, Samoa seem likely to have a strong squad with a number of star players declaring their intention to represent them – no doubt inspired by the achievements of Tonga.
Are England at risk of not winning their group?
England are in Group A along with Samoa, France and Greece. Such is the calibre of the Samoa squad being put together, England coach Shaun Wane has declared his side as underdogs against them in the opening match.
Ultimately, that game will likely decide the winner of the group – with both England and Samoa expected to comfortably beat France and Greece.
Whatever happens, if England make it through, their quarter-final will be at the DW Stadium in Wigan on Saturday November 5, and a potential semi-final at the Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal FC.
What about the other home nations?
It’s pleasing to see such a conventional tournament format, which hasn’t always been the case with the Rugby League World Cup.
There are 16 teams in the men’s competition, with four groups of four.
That means there is a home nation in each of the four groups.
Scotland are in Group B with Australia, Fiji and Italy, with Ireland in Group C with New Zealand, Lebanon, Jamaica and Ireland.
Wales will have to cause somewhat of an upset to get out of Group D, which consists of Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
The winners and runner-up in Group D will be who awaits England in the quarter-finals, depending on where they finish.
Is there any Widnes involvement in the World Cup?
Vikings coach John Kear is of course head coach of Wales, and it is expected that hooker Matty Fozard will be selected.
Loanee centre Luis Roberts, who spent the second half of the season at the DCBL Stadium from Leigh, could be called up, while Lewis Hulme got a call-up for the mid-season international against France.
Other than that, it seems unlikely that any current players will feature.
Widnesian Richie Myler, a former England international, has put his hand up for selection for Ireland.
The World Cup final will take place at Old Trafford on Saturday November 19.