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Without a shadow of a doubt, Australia will head into the 2017 Rugby League World Cup as favourites to defend their title as the best international team on the planet. Mal Meninga’s men will be quietly confident of going all the way to the World Cup final this year – and the opening fixture against England will tell us a lot about how competitive Wayne Bennett’s side really are.

If anyone is going to pip Australia to World Cup glory, it is England. New Zealand are always there or thereabouts but rugby union is their main area of expertise; England can build on the recent success of Super League as they look to pip their southern hemisphere rivals. Just a few months ago, three of England’s top club sides took on three National Rugby League clubs in the 2017 World Club Series; and the English teams came out on top – and Super League are pushing for more fixtures in the future.

Buoyed by a regular influx of foreign talent, Super League is improving on a yearly basis and it is starting to have a positive impact on the national team. Yes, more Australians are now strutting their stuff in England’s primary club division but that could have an adverse effect on the international side in the World Cup. Bennett will have been watching some of those Australian stars very closely in recent months and England will have a strategy to combat Meninga’s explosive style of attacking rugby.

At the 2013 event, Australia were a class above their rivals and England will need to improve in order to compete this time around. For context, Bennett’s side suffered an agonising last-gasp defeat to New Zealand in the semi-finals and the Kiwis then went on to lose 34-2 in the World Cup final. On paper, the Kangaroos are probably still a class above their closest rivals but in sport, you never know. Taking opponents for granted and allowing complacency to sneak in would be foolish on their part.

The likes of Zak Hardaker and Luke Gale, both of whom were nominated on the three-man shortlist for the 2017 Man of Steel, will be desperate to lead England to victory in the World Cup – especially after performing so well for the Castleford Tigers this year. A number of England stars may head into the tournament after winning the Grand Final; that should help bolster confidence throughout the national squad.

In the build-up to the competition, Champion Bets can keep punters updated on the latest rugby league news, odds and tips – the firm tells punters to “see our results” before signing up. Australia scored more points than any of their rivals in the 2013 edition but England shouldn’t be too far behind if they find their best form this year. That opening clash in Melbourne should be an intriguing and open affair if nothing else.

To beat Australia, England will need plenty of luck. Wayne Bennett knows that he has an exceptional pool of players to choose from and they will travel to the southern hemisphere in buoyant mood. At the very least, a deep run to the semi-finals is a must for England this year and from there, who knows. If Australia struggle to get going, England could be the main beneficiaries.