Minnows Fiji and Tonga have, if you believe in the inexorable power of religion, God on their sides so far during the predominantly unpredictable Rugby League World Cup.

But the big fellah must be beginning to feel the pinch a little as the Pacific Island nations prepare to kick off in the RLWC semifinals this week.

Should God continue to drive Fiji against Australia tomorrow in the 10pm (NZ time) kick off at Brisbane Stadium and Tonga against England the following day in the 6pm kick off at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, then I fear the immortal one will find himself (or herself) in a pickle for the final the following Saturday.

Who will be God's chosen ones to lift the World Cup in Brisbane?


After all, both the Third World island nations are devout followers.

Okay I hear the agnostic types scoffing, declaring Fiji will need a miracle ... or two ... to beat the rampant Kangaroos.

But scepticism is somewhat guarded when predicting the fate of the Red Army against traditional powerhouses England because, I agree, I've seen the Sweet Chariot carry the Poms home with a lot more conviction in previous years.

One can only imagine that if God is trying to influence an MMP-like result then Winston Peters must be accommodated with a Jacinda Adern to make it work.

Not am I for a second suggesting that Fiji, who through tears of joy and disbelief proclaimed they will "win the World Cup", should become the sacrificial lambs or, for that matter, Tonga, but the latter have Peter's persona.

However, when you've never made it to the World Cup final, never mind won it, it's easier to reconcile disappointment with other incremental gains.

In some respects, the South Pacific islanders have far exceeded their expectations in toppling big names - just ask the Kiwis who are still grappling with their demons and in a state of denial after succumbing to both nations in consecutive games.

You see, the cruelty in the script of this World Cup is religion will need concussion tests from tomorrow should it buckle to the might of Australia and England.


The prophets of doom, grinning like The Joker of the Batman movie and comic-book fame, will be quick to remind all and sundry that moolah is the royal flush when you're calling the bluff at the poker table of any elite sport. The untold resources of Australia and England is the most tangible of religions.

If the embarrassing 4-2 demise of New Zealand last Saturday to Fiji is anything to go by, a Fiji v Tonga final will certainly tilt league off its global axis.

Hey, if the Kiwis can upset the Kangaroos in a World Cup then what right does anyone have to tell Fiji and Tonga to stop dreaming.

When Kiwis coach David Kidwell, his gum-chewing captain, Adam Blair, and playmaker Shaun Johnson can turn on their own dwindling followers and the media but expect New Zealand Rugby League chairman Reon Edwards to apologise on their behalf then it's obvious a renaissance is required.

Johnson has fronted up to express remorse for his rant but where are Kidwell and Blair?

For that reason a changing of guards is imperative for the Kiwis if they are going to grow their congregation to embrace their religion again.

It pays to know that a religious fervour has fuelled Fiji to a historic gold medal in the inaugural sevens tournament at Rio Olympics last year.

Quiet admiration takes hold of fans watching towering players, with psalms from the Bible scribbled on their wrist bands, huddling to pray and raising their arms towards the heavens before and after each game.

I hasten to add that was not evident in the repertoire of the Papua New Guinea team who lost 36-6 to England in Melbourne last Sunday.

Sceptical scrutiny and superstition aside, religion offers a platform to belong to a cult of acceptance when just regimented training becomes banal.

Embracing a sense of belief or faith, even dogmatically, can be quite therapeutic for the soul especially if the odds are stacked against you. It can have a calming effect on players on the paddock against overwhelming favourites. It can lift exhausted players beyond the pain threshold to do the unthinkable.

Which takes us to the Fiji v Kangaroos semifinal.

The dark horses know after the Kiwis encounter that they can put up the shutters for 70 minutes, if not 80, but they will need to start trusting their instincts on attack again.

Pivot Jarryd Hayne will have to take control more to put his lethal backs on to the front foot to cross the try line and not entertain the thought of what happens if the Aussies counterattack.

It's time for Fiji coach Mick Potter to free them from their mental shackles of defence if they wish to play another game because, like Tonga, the islanders have played their finals already.

Tonga, like PNG, will have to try to avoid confrontational passages in every play-the-ball situation to assert macho-like dominance through their marauding forward pack.

Akin to Fiji, they must trust their backs, Tuimoala Lolohea, David Fusitua, Michael Jennings and William Hopoate, to conjure some magic because England have enough agility to break the advantage line with their backs.

Miracles do happen, if you believe in them, although it pays to know that on the field the blokes with the whistle and flags can easily become the grim greapers if you lose the plot.