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Pool C Qualifying Final race heats up in Port Moresby
Producing the finest display in their international history last Saturday, Papua New Guinea will be buoyant about their chances of progressing beyond the group stage for the first time since the beginning of the millennium. While the favourable treatment received by the Kumuls in hosting all their group matches in front of vocal home supporters may draw the ire of their rivals, the passion displayed by the PNG faithful was among the highlights of the opening round of the World Cup. Reaping the rewards of the Queensland Cup pathways established in recent times, the inclusion of NRL stars David Mead, Kurt Baptiste and James Segeyaro proved telling against the Welsh, a factor coach Michael Marum will be hoping follows through in the Sunday twilight. Retaining a near-identical squad with the exception of impressive outside back Stargroth Amean coming onto the bench in place of Wartovo Puara, the Kumuls will face a tougher test against Ireland, but whereas the experienced size of the Wolfhounds will ensure a more physical contest, the free-flowing speed of the home side should prove telling in the end result.
Causing the biggest upset of the World Cup so far, Ireland will be out to produce a similar result on Sunday in a match with immense implications. Having shown their resolve to overcome the Australian climate against Italy, the vocal opposition of the PNG crowd will be another obstacle for coach Mark Aston to contend with, but as evident by the emphatic nature of their 36-12 win, the Irish are capable of overcoming adversity and making a statement. Keeping the faith with the same squad that performed so strongly in Cairns, the confidence gained from a successful opening fixture should see the Wolfhounds continue an expansive brand of play, while asserting their dominance off the back of a forward pack brimming with established Super League talent. With the winner of this match likely to finish on top of Pool C, both sides will be desperate to emerge with the win to set up a likely Qualifying Final berth against England.
Last meeting: These sides have not met in an international prior to this World Cup.
Who to watch: While the Papua New Guinea outside backs were key in amassing points for the Kumuls, the breakout star to emerge from the 50-6 win over Wales was unquestionably backrower Rhyse Martin. A relative unknown prior to the World Cup, Martin was outstanding on Saturday with his work with and without the ball playing an instrumental role in the record win. Contracted with Canterbury, the former Roosters lower grader showed a skill set severely missed by the Bulldogs in 2017, but having announced his credentials on the international stage it should be only a matter of time before the 25-year-old features in the NRL. With Ireland basing their World Cup campaign around the size of their forwards, Martin will need to step up to match the challenge posed by the Wolfhounds, while ensuring his value to the side remains primarily focused on capitalising on attacking chances.
Despite boasting over 300 games of experience in Super League, last Sunday was the first lasting impression left by Irish forward Louie McCarthy-Scrasbrook upon local audiences. Proving a constant thorn for the Italian defence, the St. Helens veteran played a crucial role in the 36-12 win, rewarded for his efforts with a late four pointer. Lining up once again on the left edge, the 31-year-old will relish his personal duel opposite Rhyse Martin, with the Wolfhound's chief attacking forward out to topple the skill of his PNG rival. Having taken part in St. Helens' drought-breaking 2014 Grand Final win, McCarthy-Scarsbrook is aware of what it takes to overcome adversity and with the vocal support of the PNG crowd playing its part, his high-pressure experience may be the telling factor needed for Ireland to spoil the party for the home side.
The favourite: Recording a record win in front of a nation of supporters, Papua New Guinea are expected to account for Ireland.
My tip: While Ireland proved to be the unsuspecting stars of the first week of the World Cup, the challenge presented by Papua New Guinea should prove too great. Papua New Guinea by 10.
1. David Mead 2. Justin Olam 3. Kato Ottio 4. Nene Macdonald 5. Garry Lo 6. Ase Boas 7. Watson Boas 8. Stanton Albert 9. Kurt Baptiste 10. Luke Page 11. Rhyse Martin 12. Willie Minoga 13. Paul Aiton 14. James Segeyaro 15. Wellington Albert 16. Stargroth Amean 17. Enoch Maki
1. Scott Grix 2. Shannon Mcdonell 3. Ed Chamberlain 4. Michael Morgan 5. Liam Kay 6. Api Pewhairangi 7. Liam Finn 8. Brad Singleton 9. Michael McIlorum 10. Kyle Amor 11. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook 12. Oliver Roberts 13. George King 14. Tyrone McCarthy 15. James Hasson 16. Joe Philbin 17. Anthony Mullally
Referees: Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials: Chris Butler, Michael Wise; Video Referees: Bernard Sutton;