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Match Preview: Wales vs Ireland

Ireland have arguably been the surprise packet of Rugby League World Cup 2017 and will be confident of going out on a high with a win over Wales on Sunday.

An opening-week victory over touted hotshots Italy in Cairns surprised many and a courageous, narrow loss to Papua New Guinea last week in the hostile domain of Oil Search National Football Stadium in Port Moresby earned Ireland respect and praise around the tournament.

But their fate could be sealed before kick-off on Sunday should PNG defeat the United States on Saturday night and claim first place in Pool C.

Should that occur, it’s likely Ireland will remain content with their progression over the last month if they can claim a win over Wales.

After finishing completely last at the 2013 World Cup where they played against England, Fiji and Australia, Ireland would have been glad to have been thrown in against the likes of Italy, PNG and Wales this time around.

But with only one winner progressing into the quarter-finals from both Pool C and D, the 14-6 loss to the Kumuls last week effectively ended their campaign – barring a huge USA upset win.

A mainly defence-based game against PNG meant Ireland could only cross for one try, far less than their six-try haul in the win over Italy.

They’ll be hoping stalwarts Liam Finn and Scott Grix can get their hands on the ball more and provide playmaking attack for the likes of Liam Kay on the edges – who scored two tries against Italy.

Meanwhile, for Wales, it will be a case of finally coming up against a side who they can evenly compete with following heavy losses to PNG (50-6) and Fiji (72-6).

Those bruising encounters have left The Dragons desperate to restore some pride to their campaign and they’ll need to better the 46-14 loss to Ireland in 2014 in what is their only meeting.

All 17 players who played in the loss to Fiji have been retained in coach John Kear’s 21-man squad, but 23-year-old Gavin Bennion looks set to make his debut after being named on the bench.

Kear has been critical in the past week of the state of northern-hemisphere rugby league and said the heavy losses they’ve already sustained are proof of the gap.

“You have to have wake-up calls and we are getting one,” he told The Mirror.

“You only have to look at northern hemisphere results, including ours, and perhaps England not doing a number on Lebanon when people expected them to."

“It should make us look at our set-ups and try to formulate a more productive way forward.”

“The eye-opening thing for me is, from last time I came down under to the time now, things have moved on so greatly.”

Wales and Ireland will be the first match of the double-header also featuring England and France on the only stop on Australia’s west coast.

Max McKinney  | @MaxMckinney
Rugby League World Cup 2017 Correspondent

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