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Rugby League World Cup: Final preview

Old Trafford awaits Australia and Samoa as the Rugby League World Cup reaches its climax this weekend.

The 31st match of the 2021 World Cup will take place at the "Theatre of Dreams" as Australia try to win their 12th World Cup, while Samoa are in uncharted territory in their first final. 

Australia reached the final after an intense 16-14 victory over New Zealand at Elland Road. 

Aussies coach Mal Meninga said his side's win in Leeds was "one of the best Test matches" he had been involved in, as the Aussies reached their 15th consecutive World Cup final. 

They were expected to face England in this week's final, but Toa Samoa had other ideas and ran out 27-26 winners against Shaun Wane's side. 

A Stephen Crichton drop-goal settled a pulsating game at the Emirates Stadium in London, and England were left wondering what could have been after producing their worst performance of the tournament when it mattered most. 

Experience counts on the world stage

WhatAustralia v Samoa
WhereOld Trafford, Manchester
When16:00, Saturday 19th November 2022
How to watchBBC One
OddsAustralia 1/12, Samoa 6/1

Australia's record at the World Cup is exemplary, and they know they have what it takes to go all the way this weekend. 

The Aussies are just one step away from winning their third consecutive World Cup, but they, too, are about to experience something new. For the first time since 1954, the World Cup final will feature the Aussies against someone other than New Zealand or England/Great Britain. 

Samoa were considered one of the outsiders to trouble Shaun Wane's side or the Kiwis, and they have delivered despite losing their opening match 60-6. 

While Matt Parish's side showed no signs of nerves against England, Australia will prove a different test altogether, and they will be looking to assert their dominance early. 

The Aussies are 10/11 to cover the -8.5 handicap, and for a side that have scored 240 points already this winter, it is easy to see them giving readers a run for their money.

Injuries may finally catch up with Samoa 

Samoa could not have started the World Cup on a worse footing, as they were thrashed 60- 6 by England in October at St James' Park. Just days after they moved ahead of England in the pre-tournament betting markets, Samoa were left embarrassed by their first display of the World Cup. 

The scoreline did not tell the whole story, though, with injuries ruining their gameplan throughout the 80 minutes. Braden Hamlin-Uele, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, and Tyrone May all suffered injuries in Newcastle, and Parish has had to make numerous changes throughout the World Cup. 

Forward Spencer Leniu is now a doubt due to a shoulder injury, while halfback Fa'amanu Brown is likely to be ruled out due to a concussion. That means Samoa will only be available to select one hooker, and in total, Samoa now have six confirmed absentees for Sunday's final. 

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Prop Junior Paulo has once again escaped a ban, receiving only a caution for his lifting tackle on England's Tom Burgess. While Samoa's squad claim they have adopted a "next-man-up" mentality, Toa Samoa do not have the same depth as the Aussies. 

Meninga has named an unchanged team for Saturday's final, with Daly Cherry-Evans and Reuben Cotter set to drop out of the matchday squad. 

With so many NRL stars playing for Samoa, there are likely to be some mouth-watering battles across the park. Cameron Munster is one of the best thinkers in the 13-man code, but he will need to get the better of Jarome Luai of Samoa. 

Luai's creativity in the halves has helped Samoa reach the final of the World Cup, but he will not be able to win them the game on his own. Australia's pack will earn their money on Saturday evening, and they will be nursing their bumps and bruises on Sunday, no matter the outcome. 

Samoa's pack are menacing, strong and skilful, but the fact they only have one hooker may mean they start to tire through the middle. 

Samoa have nothing to lose this weekend; they have, in a way, already won by reaching their first-ever final. Over 44.5 points appeals at odds of 10/11 as the two teams prepare to showcase their talents on the global stage.  

While it would be incredible for the growth of the game to see Samoa win, Australia do not miss when it comes to finals, and they should have too much experience for Parish's men at Old Trafford.

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