The flying Fox has five! Mitchell starts it all with great strength in contact in midfield to find the offload. Grant takes over, darting up the guts with his staccato steps. As Lebanon’s defence fractures Munster spots acres of space in the left corner, jabs the ball in that direction off his boot and who’s there but the fastest man in rugby league, cruising at warp speed to slide over and touch down the bouncing ball.
Cleary’s radar is now fixed and he nails another touchline conversion.
56 mins: Morkos is gang tackled on the right touchline and the ball spills off the island. The youngest then goes down with cramp. But yet another Kangaroos turnover invites Lebanon to counter at speed and the Cedars are soon on Australia’s 10m line. A set restart gives them a very good look at a second try and as Moses dances towards the right edge that option looks on. The Eels half then earns another set when his chip is deflected back his way off a green and gold boot but Rajab loses possession in contact and the attack dissipates.
The Cedars have a try! A full set in perfect attacking territory goes nowhere but Moses spins gold with his kick, dropping a grubber in behind Munster who makes an almighty mess of his job at fullback, allowing Mansour to charge in behind and get his fingertips to the ball. Joy for Lebanon, more questions for Meninga to ponder.
Moses drags his conversion attempt across the face.
51 mins: Australia return possession immediately with Carrigan dropping the ball as his eyes are drawn to the oncoming tackler before securing the pass. A scrappy second-half so far. The Kangaroos need a rev up.
50 mins: A rare break from the Cedars! Moses carries to the right touchline near halfway and as contact looms he chips ahead, only to be taken out off the ball by Addo-Carr. The tournament’s leading try-scorer is lucky to avoid a yellow card for a professional foul. Unfortunately for Lebanon as the attacking set gets underway on the 20m line Robinson makes a mess of the play-the-ball and the threat peters out.
48 mins: No serious concern over Tedesco, by the way, who is on the bench nursing a corked left thigh. Nothing serious.
Calamitous from the Cedars. 10m out from their own line Robinson spins an awful pass from dummy half that bounces in front of Moses and skids towards Mansour who fumbles under pressure from Mitchell. Addo-Carr picks up the scraps and dabs down for his fourth try of the night. That was demoralising for Lebanon.
Cleary scrapes over a touchline conversion that will boost his confidence.
44 mins: A good defensive set from Lebanon forces Cleary into a hurried kick – and not for the first time tonight he fails to execute, shanking a bomb with no distance. This has not been Cleary’s night to command the halfback jersey.
42 mins: Australia are immediately on the front foot. Grant makes a break from dummy half, a move immediately followed by Cherry-Evans, on at the interval for Tedesco. That means all of Cherry-Evans, Grant, Munster, and Cleary are on the park together – Munster now at fullback.
The sides are back out for the second-half. Australia, and Addo-Carr in particular will be chasing records. Mal Meninga will be hoping to avoid injuries.
For their part, Lebanon started strongly, and dismissed the early try to remain in touch for the next ten or so minutes. Even then, as Australia racked up the points the discipline and commitment was obvious. Towards half-time fatigue began to kick in and they will need to remain focussed to avoid being humiliated in the final quarter.
Very professional and efficient from Australia in that half. Isaah Yeo has led from the front with a superb display that has allowed the Kangaroos to dominate field position with great momentum with ball in hand. The backs have done the business too with the finishing, with Addo-Carr capturing the headlines with his scintillating pace.
It hasn’t all been positive though. Nathan Cleary’s goal-kicking has been poor and he, Tedesco and Grant all failed to execute kicks out of hand. There have also been enough skill errors to keep Meninga busy on the training ground working on his combinations.
As expected the Kangaroos are well on top in Huddersfield. A Josh Addo-Carr hat-trick has Australia heading towards a semi-final date with the Kiwis at full pace.
40 mins: Meninga will be thrilled by Australia’s work-rate tonight. Despite the scoreline the pressure has been unrelenting and again defence is turned into attack with a superb kick and chase with Kiraz bundled into touch by a gang led by Martin to deliver a set 20m from Lebanon’s line. However, Mitchell cannot capitalise and the whistle for the error becomes the signal for half-time.
38 mins: Lebanon’s previous attack ends with a debatable knock-on call against Australia inviting a scrum 15m out. Moses orchestrates a couple of neat set-plays behind the ruck but Australia’s defensive line is solid. On the last Moses chips to the left corner but the kick lacks penetration and the Kangaroos escape.
36 mins: Lebanon are starting to unravel. A ruck infringement concedes a set restart and Australia head back on attack. That is until Mansour rearranges Munster’s ribcage with a massive hit! That was a mighty crunching tackle with the five-eighth completely exposed. It reinvigorates the Cedars and they make ground down the left edge. Space opens up on the right but the scramble defence from the Kangaroos is desperate enough and Morkos doesn’t have room to get around the outside.
Doueihi executes one of the wildest restarts you’ll ever see. He tried to drill a right-angle stinger into touch on the bounce but instead just smashes a head-high bullet out on the full about 20 rows back!
Not long afterwards Murray gets his second try in as many sets. Routine for Australia who rumble downfield then let Grant go to work around the ruck. Lebanon lose discipline with their try-line defence and Murray dives through almost unopposed.
Cleary kicks his second conversion in quick succession.
Like a hot knife through butter. Lovely running rugby league and great hands from the Kangaroos for try number five. Cleary was instrumental with a beautifully timed pass to Crichton on the burst and after the Rooster made most of the ground the Bunny Murray finishes the job under the posts.
29 mins: A Munster handling error in attack then a ruck penalty in defence allows Lebanon into attacking territory for the first time in an age. Doueihi almost breaks the line 15m out then Moses is adamant his grubber on the last should return to Lebanese hands after ricocheting off Yeo’s boot. The on-field call went Australia’s way prompting Moses to challenge but the video referee isn’t interested.
Australia are executing their game-plan superbly. Their tackle pressure is good, their kicking choices are conservative, errors are absent, and when opportunities have presented themselves they have been taken.
Aside from Addo-Carr’s hat-trick and Tedesco’s menace, Yeo has been the standout charging through the middle of the park and it’s another of his barnstorming runs that sets up try number four. Following Yeo’s burst Australia target the right corner but are held up inches short. The ball is recycled to the left and when it reaches Mitchell the Rabbitoh centre decides it’s try-time, pinning his ears back, running outside his man and then straight and over the fullback like a snow plough. That was brute force to complement superb skill.
Cleary misses his third kick from four. This one falls short of the crossbar despite tracking on line. Maybe it’s time for Valentine Holmes to be handed the tee?
Yeo again drives Australia downfield but Kiraz does superbly under the high ball under pressure to clear for Lebanon. Until he doesn’t… oh dear, poor Kiraz. After doing brilliantly in the air he’s stripped 1-1 on the ground by Munster with the Queenslander immediately flicking a one-handed backhand pass to his outside where Addo-Carr finishes a 20-minute hat-trick!
Cleary misses his second conversion attempt out of three. This was a poor strike that never threatened the uprights.
Addo-Carr almost wriggles through the corridor in a carry to relieve the pressure on the middle forwards. Tedesco is next up with the tactic from dummy-half – and he does break through! Does he have support on his inside shoulder? Of course he does, and it’s Addo-Carr galloping at speed to accept the simple assist and cross for his second of the night and eighth of the competition.
Cleary can’t miss his kick from in front of the posts.
14 mins: Moses fluffs his first kick of the night, but he was unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty for obstruction with Trbojevic blocking his way as he tried to run onto his own chip through. After a run of conservative sets Australia smell blood again and Yeo sets up dangerous field position but as the ball spins to Mitchell on the left 19-year-old Brad Morkos ragdolls his more celebrated opponent into touch. Lebanon are standing their ground well despite that early try.
12 mins: Moses again keeps Lebanon in good field position with a huge bomb that has enough hang time for the chasing pack to nail Addo-Carr behind his 10m line. Australia again play risk averse counterattacking football, following their coach’s instructions of discipline and professionalism.
10 mins: Lebanon grind to halfway and Tasipale adds some gloss to the set with a linebreak. Moses takes over and launches a menacing swirling bomb that Holmes spills under pressure but Australia are fortunate to see the ball bounce backwards and safely to Tedesco. The Kangaroos take no risks and play the clearing set for territory behind Cleary’s boot.
7 mins: Australia are back on the attack immediately courtesy of an offside against the Cedars early in the restart set. It would have been a six-again in the NRL but in Huddersfield it allows a mighty boot downfield and A1 attacking position. The Kangaroos are soon camped inside Lebanon’s 20m zone but Grant tries to be too cute too soon and fails to execute his grubber, turning over possession.
A full set from halfway builds nicely for Lebanon but the grubber on the last tackle is way too heavy off the boot and the danger evaporates.
In response Holmes quickly darts 30m to put Australia on the front foot. The Kangaroos go through hands to the right with Tedesco sniping. Then they return to the left where Munster opens the field with a beautiful cutout pass. Mitchell doesn’t hang around and draws the tackler before offloading to Addo-Carr and the blistering winger does the rest, hugging the whitewash and diving full length to touch over in the corner under pressure from Mansour. Textbook backline rugby league.
Cleary strikes the post with the touchline conversion.
2 mins: Australia’s first tackle drives Lebanon back five metres post contact. The Cedars barely cross the gainline by tackle four but Rahme finally gives a shunt and Moses kicks long downfield. That will settle the nerves. Nothing flash from the Kangaroos as they rumble to halfway… but Cleary, the most dangerous kicker in rugby league, shanks his bomb horribly and it flies miles out on the full over the right touchline. Under no pressure that was a shocker on a big night for the NSW half.
Englishman Chris Kendall blows his whistle, Australian James Tedesco boots the first quarter-final underway.
Sponsored by Sharp electronics, Lebanon’s jersey is redolent of a knock-off version of a mid-90s Manchester United football kit you might find in a disreputable street market.
The two sides are making their way out onto the Kirklees Stadium turf. Lebanon are top to toe in red, led out by Mitchell Moses. His former flatmate James Tedesco is at the front of the Australian parade. The Kangaroos are in their familiar green uniform with gold chevrons.
Mal Meninga has had a few words ahead of kick-off and the Australian coach played everything with a straight bat. “We’re after a professional performance” he said, before padding out some sentences around the keywords discipline, pressure and process.
There was a vote of confidence in Nathan Cleary at halfback, indicating he’s not expecting the Penrith playmaker to do anything dramatic, simply “play how we want to play,” and lead the Kangaroos around the park.
There was a fitness update too with Meninga indicating there are no injury worries in the camp.
Lebanon might have little chance in Huddersfield tonight but their presence is significant for the growth of international rugby league, as Gavin Willacy reports.
The main purpose of a World Cup is to grow the game, raise awareness and generate income that can be used to promote the sport to new audiences and territories. The performances of Lebanon and – despite their thrashings in the final group games, Greece and Jamaica – should have done that.
It’s chilly in Huddersfield tonight but otherwise conditions are not too bad. There’s the chance of a shower and bit of a westerly breeze, but nothing for players of this calibre to worry about.
Michael Cheika found time in his crazy schedule to speak to Daniel Gallan about life as a dual-code coach and what being involved with Lebanon means to him.
It’s about my heritage and making a difference. This is an opportunity to do something special. All the boys in the team feel that. We know we’re representing something bigger than ourselves.
Michael Cheika will need all his creativity and coaching nous to convince his charges they can mix it with the best. Parramatta halfback Mitchell Moses will be vital orchestrating play, keeping the Cedars moving, and keeping them in touch with his boot.
1. Jacob Kiraz
2. Josh Mansour
4. Brad Morkos
16. Reece Robinson
5. Abbas Miski
6. Adam Doueihi
7. Mitchell Moses
13. James Roumanos
14. Anthony Layoun
19. Khalil Rahme
11. Elie El-Zakhem
12. Charbel Tasipale
15. Andrew Kazzi
9. Michael Tannous
17. Jalal Bazzaz
18. Khaled Rajab
20. Jaxson Rahme
Mal Meninga has a frightening array of talent at his disposal with power up front, speed out wide, and skills around the ball. His challenge is fitting it all into a cohesive unit. This is especially the case in the halves where both State of Origin No 7s are battling for the Kangaroo jersey. After rotating Nathan Cleary and Daly Cherry-Evans, Meninga has tonight named both in his squad with the versatile Ben Hunt given a night off, meaning Cherry-Evans is likely to give Harry Grant a chop out at hooker.
Other than Hunt, Reagan Campbell-Gillard is probably the only guaranteed first-17 player absent.
1. James Tedesco
4. Valentine Holmes
10. Jack Wighton
8. Latrell Mitchell
9. Josh Addo-Carr
19. Campbell Graham
7. Cameron Munster
14. Nathan Cleary
5. Jake Trbojevic
20. Harry Grant
18. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
17. Angus Crichton
21. Liam Martin
24. Isaah Yeo
11. Cameron Murray
13. Patrick Carrigan
2. Daly Cherry-Evans
16. Reuben Cotter
Hello everybody and welcome to live coverage of the first quarter-final of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup. Australia vs Lebanon kicks off at John Smith’s Stadium in Huddersfield at 7:30pm GMT (6:30am AEDT).
If you’ve landed here looking for a nail-biter I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place. Last-eight contests in the world cup of a major sport rarely begin so one-sided.
The Kangaroos have won 11 of the 15 rugby league world cups (including eight of the past nine), finishing runners-up on three of the four times they missed out. The NRL is the strongest domestic competition and State of Origin the gold standard in demonstrating a player’s aptitude for international representation.
By contrast, Lebanon are competing in only their third world cup, during which they have secured just their second and third match wins. The Cedars squad contains a decent number of NRL regulars, but also a smattering of Sydney grade footballers. On paper it is a mismatch.
But that doesn’t mean it is a contest without merit. In the context of this tournament Mal Meninga still has questions to answer around the balance of his 17, especially in the playmaker roles. Next up are New Zealand, an opponent Meninga will not want to experiment against, and if they pass that assignment a potential final against an England outfit backed by a partisan crowd. This is the final dress rehearsal.
Lebanon may be fighting out of their weight division today but they embody the growth of rugby league outside the game’s narrow heartlands, and their development – like that of Greece and Italy and the rest – is important for the future of the sport.
The Cedars also employ as coach Michael Cheika, one of the most interesting figures in rugby; league and union. After tidying up his duties in West Yorkshire, Cheika, the Sydney-born son of Lebanese parents, will head to Twickenham to coach Argentina’s Pumas against England.
I’ll be back shortly. In the meantime, enjoy the insight below into the fascinating Lebanon coach.
And remember, you can contribute throughout the match by sending me an email or directing any tweets to @JPHowcroft.