Rugby League World Cup: BBC Sport pundits on ‘game-changing’ tournament

“Inspirational”, “a game-changer” and “something very powerful”; we asked our pundits for their verdicts on the upcoming Rugby League World Cup.

The delayed 2021 tournament gets under way on Saturday when England men take on Samoa at 14:30 BST, in a game you can watch on BBC One.

Here is what our experts had to say before a festival of rugby league…

Former New Zealand and Bradford Bulls player Robbie Hunter-Paul

‘England’s men have the whole nation behind them’

It’s going to be a World Cup unlike anything we have ever seen before.

This is rugby league’s biggest opportunity to inspire the young and old to pick up the sport.

And England men have all the tools to aid that. Their 50-0 warm-up win over Fiji earlier this month was certainly inspirational.

England look so smooth together, the strength they have out wide is absolutely incredible. Their forwards too are linking up so well.

This is rugby league’s premier competition and England have a whole nation behind them.

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Who will win?

This isn’t the tournament rugby league used to be, now there are five teams who could win this.

You have your traditional top three of the hosts England, the holders Australia and the world number one New Zealand.

But Samoa and Tonga are right up there and boast some of the strongest squads in their history.

Any number of teams can win this, it’s so competitive. And that’s great.

‘Organiser’ Radley ‘important’ for England

There are so many key players for England but I think Victor Radley is a real coup.

Australia-born Radley could have been in contention for a place in the Kangaroos’ squad, but chose England, qualifying through his Sheffield-born father.

There is an element to his organisational skills that come into play in the right parts of the field.

It’s something that goes unnoticed. Most people only see forwards punching holes through the opposition.

But he is a really smart player who is capable of organising those around him to set things up. Under the radar, he is going to play a really important role.

Former England and Leeds Rhinos prop Danika Priim

England inspired by Lionesses’ legacy

It’s everybody’s World Cup. If you’re a sports fan you’ve got the next month to watch something that’s both home-nations based and super exciting.

England’s women’s rugby league team will want to write their own legacy, but you can’t not look at the Lionesses at the football European Championship.

The wave has started for women’s sport and these girls will want to ride that.

They’re not professional, so there’s this aspiration to take rugby league to the same level football is at now. This World Cup could be a game-changer.

Who will win?

You can’t write off the Australians. The NRL Women’s Premiership is contracted if you play at international level so they are all full-time athletes. Australia’s squad is phenomenal.

England, though, in front of their own supporters, are in the best possible place to go as far as they can in the competition.

In 2017 we had six half-day training sessions. This time around the girls have fitted in as much training as humanly possible.

England now look at analytics, they have a nutritionist. They are used to playing at big stadiums, there is a confidence in the camp. It’s the best-prepared England women’s team ever to go to a World Cup.

Woman of Steel Stanley ‘pivotal’

Ali Brigginshaw is a stalwart in the Australia team and will completely rule the roost when it comes to directing play in the middle of the park.

But England also have stars of their own. Tara-Jane Stanley is the current Woman of Steel, coming off the back of a great season with York City Knights.

She’s been pivotal at full-back and this will be her third World Cup. The expectation will be that she will lead by example and inspire the rest of the group.

Widnes Vikings prop and BBC wheelchair rugby league commentator Kyle Amor

‘Once you start watching wheelchair rugby league, you can’t stop’

There’s something always happening, the pitch is small, the ball is almost always in play, once you start watching you can’t take your eyes off it.

Apart from one or two little tweaks, the wheelchair rugby league rules are exactly the same as the running game.

But it’s end-to-end and so hard to call as a commentator sometimes. There’s usually about 15 tries scored per game.

There’s a huge platform for these athletes to be on the main stage at this World Cup. It’s something very powerful.

Who will win?

England will be favourites. In fact, across all three World Cups, I’d say the hosts’ best chance will be in the wheelchair tournament.

England are up there with the very best in the world. It’s them and France, that’s who I think will be the finalists.

But there are so many unknowns, especially from Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Ireland can rely on one of the game’s top coaches in Phil Roberts. He took Wigan Warriors, then known as Leyland Warriors, to the Grand Final in 2021.

Trumpet-playing Bechara a ‘true all-rounder’

For me, England will be relying heavily on Seb Bechara who plays for Catalans Dragons. He lives over in France as a professional trumpet player.

He’s such a good player for the wheelchair side, he’s got it all. A true all-rounder.

Robbie Hunter-Paul, Danika Priim and Kyle Amor were speaking to BBC Sport’s Joe Rindl.

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A hedonist with a great passion for food. I baked my first biscuit at the age of five, since then I cook every day and get real pleasure from it. I am fond of intellectual games, with great interest I study scientific works on history and medicine and at the same time I follow pop culture, fashion and beauty trends.

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