Rugby League World Cup 2017: How it works, who will win and trendy Tonga

Tasha Fuiaba, a US mariner who had been sailing for five months on a damaged sailboat, climbing on board the USS Ashland in the Pacific Ocean, 25 October 2017
The 2013 final was one-sided, with Australia steamrolling New Zealand 34-2
Rugby League World Cup
Host nations: Australia, New Zealand & Papua New Guinea Dates: 27 October-2 December
Coverage: All England matches live on BBC TV, plus highlights of all other matches. Also live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and online

The Rugby League World Cup kicks off on Friday, when co-hosts and reigning champions Australia play England in Melbourne.

It will be the first of 28 matches over 36 days played across 12 venues in three countries.

With kick-off times ranging from 04:05 GMT to 10:05 GMT this could be a tournament for the enthusiast for an early start, but anyone who remembers England’s thrilling – if agonising – semi-final defeat at Wembley in 2013 will testify to the drama this tournament can produce.

How does it work?

Rugby league is no stranger to the convoluted format, as anyone familiar with the old Super League play-off system will know.

However, this tournament has a relatively sane structure, with 14 teams spread across four groups.

Groups A and B have four teams, from which the top three progress to the quarter-finals, while Groups C and D have three teams, with only the winners going into the last eight.

We are then into the knockout stage, with the final in Brisbane on 2 December as part of a double-header along with the women’s World Cup final.

Can I watch it on the BBC?

Yes. You will be able to watch every England game live on BBC television – and there will also be highlights programmes featuring all the key action on television, with extended highlights on the Red Button.

Regardless of whether England are there or not, one quarter-final, one semi-final and the final will be shown live, while there will be an extensive number of commentaries on BBC Radio 5 live and sports extra.

There will be reports and highlights on the website of all games involving the home nations, and live text commentaries on all England games.

And, for the first time, you can follow the fortunes of their favourite teams with live match notifications sent straight your phone or tablet via the BBC Sport app. Line-up, kick-off, score, half-time and full-time options are available for all teams participating at the World Cup.

Who is going to win?

The smart money would suggest it is going to take something special to stop Meninga smiling

Well, the cynic might say the tournament is played with various teams harbouring high hopes and ending with Australia flattening their opposition in the final.

True, New Zealand disabused that notion with their stunning 34-20 win in the 2008 final and also defeated the Kangaroos in the 2014 Four Nations final.

Matters reverted to type in the 2013 final in Manchester, with Australia pulverising the Kiwis 34-2 in a terrible advert for a major final. They then repeated the trick in the 2016 Four Nations final, winning 34-8 against New Zealand at Anfield.

Mal Meninga’s team are massive odds-on favourites to retain their title on home soil – handing them what would be their 11th victory in 15 tournaments.

The significance of their opening game against England cannot be overstated. Whoever wins that will, barring a subsequent catastrophe against Lebanon or France, have a much easier route to the final, avoiding the mercurial Kiwis.

What sort of mood is Wayne Bennett in?

Wayne Bennett looked pretty miserable right through last year’s Four Nations – but will he be smiling down under?

Last year’s Four Nations was the veteran Australian’s first tournament as England coach – but if he was enjoying it, he managed to hide his excitement.

His surly demeanour and monosyllabic performances in front of the media led to accusations he was failing in his duty to help grow the game. Some even called him a disgrace.

Everyone knows Bennett is no fan of the media and his mood will hardly have been lifted by the 30-0 defeat his club side Brisbane Broncos suffered against Melbourne Storm in their NRL eliminator.

In addition to coaching England, he also has to oversee a tough rebuilding job at the Queensland club