By Matt Encarnation
10:30am Thu 07th November, 2013
Scotland v USA
Salford City Stadium, Salford
Thursday 8pm (UK time)
Friday 7am (AEDT); 6am (AEST)
Honestly, who would've thunk it? Which one of you would've imagined that the United State of America, the global economic power with the relative rugby league strength of an Australian gridiron team, are appearing in a World Cup dead rubber? And they're not even dead!
The Tomahawks, who arrived in the United Kingdom unarmed but now boast the army of a children's band, have become the feel-good story of the World Cup. They've become the 2011 version of the Warriors – everyone's second team.
Coach Terry Matterson, who only got the job weeks before tournament kick-off, has done a remarkable job getting a bunch of fringe NRL players and fringe NFL players to play well above the level anyone thought they would. Case in point: stalwart Clint Newton, who plays more of a mentorship role than a hole-running one at NRL level these days, turned back the clock and bagged himself a double against the Welsh.
Granted the defence wasn't quite Craig Bellamy standard, but who doesn't love the son of an American golfing great making a name for himself – and for rugby league – in a land that plays football with helmets?
Similarly, Scotland have well exceeded pre-World Cup expectations of themselves. Heck, if it wasn't for these underdog Yanks, then there would certainly be some boy band calling on Super League Man of Steel Danny Brough to be heralded the King of Glasgow.
Sure, we know they've got a handful of quality NRL players such as Darren Lockyer's former halves partner Peter Wallace, the indestructible Luke Douglas and Cowboy Kane Linnett, and we know of the handful of Super League stars that make this team more second-tier than third.
But their stirring victory over Tonga and entertaining display against the Azzurri will not only see the co-hosts rise up the RLIF rankings but also enjoy some well-earned respect, particularly amongst their neighbouring countries.
Unlike the Americans though, the Bravehearts won't have the advantage of being able to rest players – again, who'd have thunk it? – because although they're equal first in Group C with Italy, they trail the Italians on for-and-against. Unfortunately for Steve McCormack and his men, fate is out of their hands.
Watch Out Scotland: Parramatta have signed Corey Norman to be their five-eighth in 2014, but they could do worse than persist with utility Joseph Paulo. Named captain in their first game where he scored a try before relinquishing the job to Newton, Paulo broke out with a two try-assist, four line break-assist Man of the Match performance against the Welsh. There's a reason why The Wiggles want his face on Mount Rushmore, and it's got nothing to do with politics.
Watch Out USA: Keep an eye on the kid at fullback, Matthew Russell. The 20-year-old turned a few heads Down Under, impressing in a Titans Holden Cup team that didn't win much. His stat line over his two World Cup games so far explain it all: 232 metres, 17 tackle breaks, three offloads, three tries, and three line breaks.
Where It Will Be Won: If the USA has any more gas left in their tank then the key for them will be channel their inner Lawrence Taylor and take it to the Bravehearts, because someone needs to. Scotland's completion rate against Tonga? 83 per cent. Against Italy? A ridiculous 95 per cent. Unless the Tomahawks go all Sam Burgess on Friday morning (AEDT), then the Scots will just strangle the life out of them.
Televised: 7mate - Live from 6:30am (NSW); 5:30am (Qld)
The Way We See It: It's hard not to jump on a Chrysler bandwagon, but given the hype around USA's gargantuan quarter-final against Australia next week, you get the feeling Scotland have a lot more to play for. Scotland by seven.
Yeah, the USA have been terrific. One thing this World Cup has shown is that there are plenty of guys in the second tiers, in the Championship in England and the Queensland Cup and so on Australia, that can really play the game. Not to mention in domestic leagues world-wide too.