The Rugby League World Cup gets down to business this weekend when reigning champions Australia kick off against England with a home advantage in Melbourne.
The showpiece finals for the sport will take place in 28 matches across 36 days in three countries – Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
In the finals, 14 teams play across four groups with a convoluted format that sees six from groups A and B progress to the quarter finals, while only the winners of groups C and D join them.
Brisbane hosts the final on December 2.
The tournament and final are a double header as the women’s world finals are played alongside the men’s matches.
The smart betting money is staked on Australia, who won the last title.
Tonga could be surprise packet
But New Zealand also have a home advantage and steamrollered to wins against Australia in 2008 and 2013 finals.
Australia are odds-on to take their 11th championship in 15 attempts.
The winner of the Australia v England game is likely to have an easier route to the final avoiding the New Zealanders until the last game.
Wales, Scotland and Ireland are also competing, together with the USA, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Italy, Lebanon and France.
The big surprise of the tournament could be the tiny Pacific island of Tonga. Many of New Zealand’s stars are also eligible to play for Tonga and a number have already defected. Andrew Fifita is Australian by birth, but has opted to play for Tonga, where he has family connections.
Weakened by defections
Similarly, New Zealander Jason Taumalolo is turning out for the Tongans.
Both were highly rated to play key roles for their home nations.
Tonga play a battle of the heavyweights tie with Samoa on November 4, when Fifita and Taumalolo are both expected to make an appearance.
Both had cameo roles in a world cup warm-up against Italy, who Tonga beat 16-6. They play their opening game against Scotland.
New Zealand has suffered the most from defections and many pundits are waiting to see if the team has been weakened too much to make a showing in the finals.