Was there really any doubting who would be sat atop of this ranking? Mal Meninga’s side are undisputedly the best outfit in world rugby league, and it will take something special to prise the World Cup away from their grasp this autumn.
Wayne Bennett’s men are often undone by New Zealand on the big occasion – but this year feels like the best opportunity yet for the national side to at least make the final. Can England finally win the big one?
The Kiwis are under-strength without question given the defection of several big players to the Tonga side – but on their day, they can still beat the very best in the world. However, they do seem more vulnerable than this time four years ago.
They have all the tools to perhaps be the big surprise package at this year’s tournament. They are well-stocked in the backline and in the pack: but could a lack of genuine class in the halves maybe prove to be their undoing in the latter stages?
Ben Roberts, Pita Godinet, Frank Winterstein – the big names are all there in the Samoa squad but on paper, they look to be a fraction behind the big four.
Mick Potter’s side certainly have the ability and credentials to cause a couple of significant upsets: any side with Jarryd Hayne in can do that on their day. However, they do not seem to be quite at the level of the world’s best on this occasion.
Papua New Guinea
Home advantage could yet prove absolutely huge for PNG throughout this year’s tournament – but will they be able to trouble the top teams in the world if they reach the latter stages?
Les Bleus have a vast array of top-flight experience, led by a whole host of Catalans players and captain, St Helens half-back Theo Fages. With three places up for grabs in Group A, France will certainly fancy edging out Lebanon for the third spot in that pool to make the quarter-finals.
Mark Aston’s side look like the strongest of the Celtic Nations on paper. Led by the hugely experienced Wakefield duo of Liam Finn and Scott Grix, and with Super League experience from the likes of Brad Singleton and Anthony Mullally in the pack, Ireland could easy shock a couple of nations.
Can Scotland emulate their heroic run to the quarter-finals in 2013 again this time around? In truth, it’s unlikely. Big names like Lachlan Coote, Ryan Brierley and Peter Wallace are unavailable, leaving Steve McCormack with a youthful-looking squad to try take on the world again.
There are familiar faces such as Mark Minichiello, James Tedesco and Josh Mantellato in Italy’s squad. However, with the bulk of their team selected from Australia’s second-tier competitions, Cameron Ciraldo’s men will likely struggle to test the elite sides.
John Kear’s men will pack endeavour, courage and heart aplenty – but with several big names missing, the Welsh are likely to be one of the strugglers in this year’s tournament.
Brad Fittler’s side are captained by the hugely experienced Robbie Farah – but beyond that, they do look like a side who will struggle: especially in a group with heavyweights like Australia and England.
It’s admirable to see the USA have so many players from their domestic competition in their squad – but at this particular tournament, that will no doubt prove to be a bit of a setback. They look like the weakest squad on paper: but they have proved us all wrong in a World Cup before..