Australia face first test with New Zealand League semi

Australia's defence of their Rugby League World Cup title faces its first proper test when the Kangaroos take on trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand in the tournament's opening semi-final in Leeds on Friday.

Hosts England clash with Samoa, who they beat 60-6 in the tournament opener, in the second last-four clash in Arsenal's Emirates Stadium 24 hours later.

Australia, with the tournament's top try-scorer Josh Addo-Carr in electrifying form, waltzed through their pool, despatching three-time semi-finalists Fiji 42-8, Scotland 84-0 and Italy 66-6 before beating Lebanon 48-4 in the quarters.

The Fijians pushed New Zealand all the way in their quarter, the Kiwis eventually running out 24-18 winners thanks to Jordan Rapana's late show in a humdinger of a match.

Australia coach Mal Meninga has recalled prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard for Friday's semi, the gravity of which was not lost on the former Kangaroo star.

"Once again it has been extremely difficult to leave out players who have performed very well in our colours," said Meninga, with veteran half-back Dale Cherry-Evans set to miss out on a game at Elland Road.

"This is our most important game of the World Cup for us and a great challenge against the calibre of the New Zealand side.

"I am happy with our performances so far, but we all know we need to improve."

It has been nine years since Australia played New Zealand in the World Cup, the Kangaroos running out 34-2 winners in the 2013 final at Old Trafford.

The sole upset for Australia in 15 Cup games between the two sides came in 2008, when a Benji Marshall-inspired New Zealand won the final in Brisbane.

There are a number of key battles, not least Sydney Roosters teammates James Tedesco and Joey Manu.

Kangaroos skipper Tedesco wears the full-back's number one shirt in the NRL, with Manu displaced to centre.

"It will be a bit different with him on the opposite side next week and he’s a good mate but I want to do what is best for our team and I'll be competing against him on Friday," said Manu, admitting that Tedesco had "taught me a lot".

"I'm not worried about rankings or who is the better team, I believe in this team we've got here, so I’m focused on us being good in the Kiwis jersey."

- Talk of revenge -

There are high hopes for England, who have hit a rich vein of form and like Australia, were rarely tested in pool play and saw off Papua New Guinea 46-6 in the quarters, scoring an incredible seven tries in the opening 27 minutes.

It is with some irony that the English face a Samoan team in the last-four they demolished in their opening group game.

But Samoa coach Matt Parish was in bullish mood after seeing his side shock Pacific rivals Tonga 20-18, in which 19-year-old Sydney Roosters winger Joseph Suaali'i was outstanding, to book a shot at redemption.

"This tournament was never about the first game, it’s about the last game," Parish said. "We were never going to be at our best (in the opening game), it was always about building through the tournament."

Parish added: "England are the home nation, they’re down to the last four and have won all of their games pretty convincingly."

England captain Sam Tomkins insisted Samoa, a team loaded with NRL regulars, had "improved massively" since that opener.

"We won't be looking back at that first week," Tomkins said. "We played a Samoa side that played really poorly, they had some injuries, and since then they've improved massively.

"This week we'll get told they'll want revenge, there's a massive gap and we're now the favourites... but we'll not listen to that."

Tomkins added it was normal for pressure to be piled on the Shaun Wane-coached England, a team which has never won the World Cup before although the combined Great Britain side did claim the title back in 1972.

"We're the England team playing on English soil, with a great chance of doing something special," he said.

"There should be lots of noise and we embrace it, but inside our bubble when we get back into camp in the morning, we'll understand that it's about us and what we do on the field, and we'll block everything out."

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