In the second of his exclusive World Cup columns, former Wigan and Great Britain centre Martin Gleeson explains why the ‘Big Three’ monopoly may be broken up this year...
Usually, we head into a World Cup with excitement – but also the knowledge that no other team can break up the ‘big three’ monopoly of Australia, New Zealand and England.
But this tournament is different.
Now, I think we could have a new name in the mix – Tonga.
New Zealand star Jason Taumalolo has switched allegiances, and he’s not the only one; three other Kiwis have deflected, as well as Australia’s Andrew Fifita. Not only has this made Tonga much stronger, but it’s a hammer-blow for New Zealand.
Whether it tells at all about what the mood is like in the Kiwi squad, I’m not sure.
But when you throw into the mix that captain Jesse Bromwich and team-mate Kevin Proctor have already been suspended, there’s no doubting they look far weaker than sides in the past which have reached the final, and even won the World Cup.
I can’t see past Australia winning this competition, but for me, this development has pushed England into second-favourite, despite the fact the conditions will be a lot different to what the Super League players are used to.
I’d go as far as to say Tonga look more of a threat than New Zealand.
The two nations are in Group B together – what a game that will be!
Samoa and Scotland are also in that group, and it’s going to be fiercely-contested.
Three qualify for the knock-out stages.
Samoa, with my mate Sean Long as their assistant coach, have a very good squad, too.
But Scotland will be buoyed by their performances in last year’s Four Nations – it’s going to be fascinating to see how that group unfolds.
It’s great to see the mid-tier is getting stronger, and I think there’ll be one or two shocks in this tournament.
I know some people will question the point of a World Cup, given Australia are such heavy favourites.
But the players love being involved, I love watching it – the 2013 tournament was outstanding – and I’m looking forward to this one.
Wigan legend Shaun Edwards will be the special guest at a dinner to mark Gleeson’s testimonial at the AJ Bell Stadium on October 28. For details call 07950 531253 or email info@ mg3testimonial.com