The 2017 Rugby League World Cup gets underway on Friday morning and there is a sense of inevitability before the first game has even kicked off.
Australia, winners of this competition back in 2013, are as short as 1/5 in 888sport’s rugby league betting markets and it would be foolish to back against Mal Meninga’s side this year.
Hosted by Australia, New Zealand and rugby league minnows Papua New Guinea, most fans are expecting a Kangaroos success on December 2nd and with good reason.
The Aussies have won this tournament a record 10 times and they were a class above their rivals in 2013 – eventually defeating New Zealand 34-2 in the showpiece at Old Trafford in Manchester.
Are the Kangaroos unstoppable? Well, it is hard to see anybody pushing Meninga’s men to their limits. Australia conceded just 24 points in six games at the 2013 edition; and Wayne Bennett’s England scored 18 of those.
The rugby league giants are by far and away the best team on the planet and, barring a major shock, an 11th world title looks likely...
Unsurprisingly, England and New Zealand lead the chasing pack. For the second World Cup in a row, Bennett’s men have been paired with Australia in the group stages and England will have the daunting task of facing the Kangaroos in the opener.
At 5/1, England are available at a price to claim victory on Friday but it is hard to envision an Aussie slip up.
There is a real buzz around the England camp right now and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Bennett’s side emulate their 2013 effort by reaching the semi-finals.
You could even argue that this squad is more talented than that of four years ago and England are a 23/20 shot to advance to the World Cup final.
But defeating New Zealand won’t be easy and an opening day defeat to Australia on Friday will almost certainly mean that Bennett’s side face the Kiwis later in the tournament.
Four years ago, New Zealand scored a late try to hand England an agonising defeat at Wembley Stadium and David Kidwell be demanding more of the same this time around.
Many believe that this Kiwis side has regressed in recent years but they are still prominent in the betting markets.
At 8/1 to win the event, it will take a collapse on Australia’s part but New Zealand are worth bearing in mind given their rugby league pedigree. The real value is in backing Kidwell’s side to reach the final – EVS is a decent price considering their path.
Fancy looking below the top three? It is a bit of a lottery as you look further down the rugby league ladder. Tonga, available at 20/1, may be the pick of the bunch.
Paired up in the same group as New Zealand, Samoa and Scotland, reaching the quarter-finals isn’t a given by any means but a favourable fixture awaits in the knockout stages.
From there, Tonga would likely face Australia in the semi-finals and that may be where the dream ends. 1/5 isn’t much of a price at all but the Kangaroos are rugby league’s dominant force and another international triumph is just around the corner.
The embarrassment of falling short in a home World Cup would be unbearable for this Australia side - they won't fall short in their pursuit of glory.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*