RL World Cup: Everything you need to know
Is there a Wigan link to the Papua New Guinea team? Any dark-horses? How does the format work? Here's our guide to the 15th rugby league World Cup...
Prospects: Excellent. They always look good. Right now, they look unstoppable.
Player to watch: Take your pick, but it’ll be good to see slippery No.1 Billy Slater back in the Green and Gold.
Wigan link: Ex-Wigan favourite Adrian Lam is the Kangaroos assistant coach.
First up: England, Friday 10am.
Prospects: Good. A final spot is not beyond them. A win on Friday would theoretically smooth their path.
Player to watch: Ben Currie was injury-hit this year and is untested at Test level, but his talent is unquestionable.
Wigan link: Warriors trio Sean O’Loughlin, John Bateman and George Williams are joined by Wiganers Chris Hill, Currie and Stefan Ratchford (all Wolves). Wigan great Denis Betts is assistant coach.
First up: Australia, Friday 10am.
Prospects: Poor. But if they can beat Lebanon, they could reach the quarters. Unlike past tournaments, France have not called on Australian-born players.
Player to watch: Livewire halfback Theo Fages has impressed at St Helens.
Wigan link: Morgan Escare is injured but prop Romain Navarrete is in the squad.
First up: Lebanon, Sunday 5am.
Prospects: Promising. Brad Fittler’s squad has several NRL stars including Robbie Farah. Lebanon competed at the 2000 World Cup.
Player to watch: Halfback Mitchell Moses had a tremendous season with Parramatta.
Wigan link: None.
First up: France, Sunday 5am.
Prospects: Weakened. They are strong, but their hopes have receded following an exodus of stars.
Player to watch: Electric full-back Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has the thrill factor.
Wigan link: Thomas Leulaui, a Cup winner in 2008, is in the Kiwis squad. Expect him to play hooker.
First up: Samoa, Saturday 8.10am.
Prospects: Solid. A good squad – but if they finish third in their group, they will likely meet Australia in the quarters.
Player to watch: Forward Josh Papalii has been a regular for Queensland and Australia in recent years.
Wigan link: Wigan’s very-own Sean Long is the assistant coach.
First up: New Zealand, Saturday 8.10am.
Prospects: Poor. Some of their best players from last year’s Four Nations are missing. But one group win may be enough to progress.
Player to watch: Danny Brough – the Huddersfield half’s boot will go a long way to deciding their chances.
Wigan link: Coach Steve McCormack is a proud Wiganer, and the player welfare officer at the Warriors. Ex-Wigan Lewis Tierney and Matty Russell are also from the town.
First up: Tonga, Sunday 6.15am.
Prospects: Exciting. Real dark horses for the semi-finals after unveiling a host of big-name defectors led by Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita.
Player to watch: Taumalolo is unquestionably one of the best forwards in world rugby league.
Wigan link: None
First up: Scotland, Sunday 6.15am.
Papua New Guinea
Prospects: Encouraging. PNG Hunters won the Queensland Cup and the Kumuls have home advantage. May meet England in the quarters.
Player to watch: Ex-Leeds hooker James Segeyaro is a shrewd operator who has returned to his country of birth.
Wigan link: Teenage half Lachlan Lam, son of Adrian, started his junior career at Wigan St Pat’s!
First up: Wales, Saturday 6am
Prospects: Dismal. It is 17 years since Wales last enjoyed a World Cup victory – Ireland shape as the only team they may beat.
Player to watch: Jet-heeled winger Regan Grace enjoyed a wonderful breakthrough season with St Helens.
Wigan link: Rhodri Lloyd and Sam Hopkins are ex-Warriors. Coach John Kear was assistant Wigan coach 15 years ago.
First up: PNG, Saturday 6am.
Prospects: So-so. Fixtures with Wales and an opener with Italy – in an inter-group match – aren’t as daunting as travelling to PNG.
Player to watch: Saints prop Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, if only to see if he annoys international opposition as much!
Wigan link: Warriors players Micky McIlorum and Jack Higginson are in Mark Aston’s squad.
First up: Italy, Sunday 4am.
Prospects: Sliding. Should top group but with Samoa and Tonga stronger, they may struggle to reach a third successive semi-final.
Player to watch: Jarryd Hayne, the former Kangaroos golden-boy who famously had a spell in the NFL with Sam Fransisco 49ers.
Wigan link: None.
First up: USA, Saturday 10.40am.
Prospects: Dreadful. Have an inter-group game at PNG - will be lucky to win any of their three matches.
Player to watch: Powerhouse ex-NZ Warriors winger Bureta Faraimo has signed for Hull FC for next season.
Wigan link: Ex-Warrior Eddy Pettybourne is once again representing the Land of the Free.
First up: Fiji, Saturday 10.40am.
Prospects: Tepid. They have a solid-squad but will struggle to top their group ahead of Fiji.
Player to watch: Veteran Mirco Bergamasco played 89 matches for Italy at union.
Wigan link: Oliver Gildart was in the initial squad, but withdrew to focus on Wigan.
First up: Ireland, Sunday 4am.
World Cup Q&A
Anything different to this World Cup?
Yes. There are three host countries, including Papua New Guinea, which will stage World Cup matches for the first time – all three in Port Moresby. In total, 13 cities host matches. Interestingly, only two of the 28 games are in Sydney.
How does the format work?
Groups A and B have four teams. Each nation faces the other teams within their pool once. The top three go through to the quarter-finals.
Groups C and D have three teams each. Each team plays the other two in their group, plus one ‘inter-group’ game (so every nation plays three fixtures).
The top team from Groups C and D go to the quarters.
Where can I watch it?
All World Cup fixtures are at the weekends – with no mid-week action. All England’s games will be screened on the BBC, starting with Australia v England this Friday (KO 10am, BBC2).
The Beeb will also show a World Cup highlights programme on Friday nights, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons, as well as one quarter-final, one semi-final and the final.
All World Cup games will be screened on subscription site Premier.
And new channel Free Sport will screen six matches (freeview95, Sky: 424, but not available on Virgin).