Rugby League World Cup: Who are the headliners – and who can make the difference?

Meeting point: Old Trafford, Manchester Date: Saturday, November 19 Inception: 13:15 & 16:00 GMT
Cover: Watch live on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and online. Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live. live text on the BBC Sport website and app.

Defending champions Australia aim for more glory in the men’s and women’s World Cup finals doubleheader at Old Trafford on Saturday.

The Jillaroos face New Zealand in the early game at 13:15 GMT, looking to equal the Kiwi Ferns’ record three triumphs in the women’s tournament, having won the last two.

Meanwhile, the Kangaroos, who have won eight of the last nine men’s World Cups, face a Samoan side that knocked out England to reach their first final.

Every kick, tackle and try will be shown live on BBC One, while all the drama and excitement from both finals will also be captured with commentary on Radio 5 Live.

But who are likely to make headlines? BBC Sport looks at two key battles – and two more vital partnerships.

Nathan Cleary vs. Jarome Luai

Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai have won back-to-back NRL titles at Penrith Panthers

A head-to-head meeting between Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai stands out among many interesting subplots in Australia’s encounter with Samoa.

The half-back combination is regarded as the heartbeat of NRL Grand Final winners Penrith Panthers, but they will be in opposing sides for the first time since childhood.

And there will be no room for sentiment or friendship once the action begins, with Luai known for his ability to antagonize his opponents.

“He talks a bit fair but that’s what makes Luai so good,” said Samoa team-mate Jaydn Shua. “He’s a competitor and he doesn’t like to lose. By the time the final whistle blows, he’ll be in you.”

Luai’s running and handling skills have seen him pick up three man-of-the-match awards in five games and he is a dangerous if familiar opponent for Cleary, who has emerged as her manager’s first choice Australia’s Mal Meninga during the tournament.

Still only 25, Cleary’s excellent kicking and passing game has led to comparisons with past Australian greats such as Andrew Johns, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk and he will be keen not to give an inch in this pivotal clash.

James Tedesco v Joseph Suaalii

James Tedesco & Joseph Suaalii
James Tedesco and Joseph Suaalii are teammates at the Sydney Roosters

While Samoa Men’s captain Junior Paulo relishes clashing with Parramatta Eels team-mate Regan Campbell-Gillard in an explosive and bruising forwards clash, fireworks will also be expected from the back.

Australia captain James Tedesco, arguably the best full-back in the world, is directly opposite Samoan teenage prodigy Joseph Swaali, a team-mate and the man expected to fill that role one day at the Sydney Roosters.

“That’s him [Suaalii] such a horrendous athlete,” Kangaroos competition Cameron Munster said. “He’s got so much ability, he can do everything and I’m scratching my head that he’s still only 19.

“He’s got a big future, but hopefully not on Saturday. We’ll do our best to cancel him out, but he’s not afraid when he turns the ball over.”

Can Amber Hall and Mele Hufanga inspire New Zealand?

Amber Hall & Mele Hufanga
Amber Hall and Mele Hufanga were both named to the Women’s Team of the Tournament

Having narrowly lost 10-8 to Australia in the group stage, the Kiwi Ferns will go into Saturday’s final full of confidence after an impressive semi-final win over England.

In that 20-6 win at York, the destructive power of Amber Hall and rugby union prop Mele Hufanga came to the fore. And while Australia have clearly taken note, they are likely to adjust their approach to try and wear down the duo and nullify their threat.

Australia co-captain Ali Brigginshaw said: “We definitely have plans [for them]. We’ve played them before – and credit to them, they played well, but as a team we can reveal that a bit.

“We’ve watched a lot of them and how we can process them and that’s the plan for Saturday. We didn’t play our best and still win this pool game. Defensively we were strong, but we have a lot more offensively and I’m excited to see how is this going to go’.

Will Ali Brigginshaw and Isabelle Kelly be key for Australia?

Ali Brigginshaw & Isabelle Kelly
Ali Brigginshaw (left) was part of the Australian team that won the previous two Wold Cups

With the highly experienced Brigginshaw and Sam Bremner both featuring in Australia’s successful World Cup campaigns in the recent past, there is plenty of experience for coach Brad Donald to call upon against New Zealand.

Brigginshaw was man of the match in the 2017 final win against the Ferns and will be instrumental in controlling the pace, tempo and ball control of the Jillaroos attack.

Meanwhile, speedy center Isabelle Kelly, who has won almost every domestic and international honour, will look to maintain the rich form she showed with a hat-trick in the semi-final. at 82-0 against Papua New Guinea.

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