Coach: Bob Fulton. Captain: Brad Fittler. Match winner: Brad Fittler
Even allowing for the absence of their Super League players, Australia still have enviable depth. They might be short of obvious star quality in some departments, but they have no glaring weaknesses either. Opponents will take heart from the theory that if they can stop Brad Fittler playing, they might have a chance. The problem is that stopping Fittler is easier said than done. And their defence will be as merciless as ever.
Coach: Phil Larder. Captain: Shaun Edwards. Match winner: Jason Robinson.
The feeling that England will never have a better chance to beat Australia needs tempering with a few qualifications. Ellery Hanley's successor as coach, was appointed late and Phil Larder has problems. With Gary Connolly bedridden and Martin Offiah and Paul Newlove short of full fitness, the contribution of the ebullient Robinson on the right wing becomes crucial, as do the kicking and all-round skills of Andy Farrell.
Coach: Graham Murray. Captain: Livai Nalagilagi. Match winner: Noa Nadruku.
Fiji have lost their first-choice coach, through politics, and their captain, James Pickering, through injury. They will still be good for some spectacular moments as they endeavour to prove that their love of running and handling makes them infinitely better suited to rugby league than to rugby union. Given a reasonable supply of the ball, Noa Nadruku has the ability to be the winger of the tournament.
Coach: Yvan Greseque. Captain: Patrick Entat. Match winner: Jean-Marc Garcia.
France have shown definite signs of getting their act together over the last year, both in the European Championship and in drawing a Test in New Zealand. They depend heavily on Entat's organisational skills, but if he is able to get the ball wide, threequarters like Garcia, Pierre Chamorin and David Fraisse, of Workington, have the pace to take full advantage of any opportunities.
Coach: Frank Endacott. Captain: Matthew Ridge. Match winner: Richie Blackmore.
It is time for the Kiwis to shed their reputation as great under-achievers. The last time they added up to the sum of their parts was a decade ago. Frank Endacott had an impressive record before becoming national coach but must find the lost key to unlocking a wealth of ability. Backs like Richie Blackmore, Kevin Iro and Sean Hoppe have the talent to terrorise any defence, but it all depends on which way the wind is blowing.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Coach: Joe Tokam. Captain: Adrian Lam. Match winner: David Westley.
Papua New Guinea, who are always difficult opponents in their own country, have never won an international abroad. They have some advantages this time, however, with a number of players who have toured before, plus a splendid Winfield Cup scrum-half in Adrian Lam. Watch out too for Canberra's David Westley. There will be few forwards in the tournament who will harder to stop near the line.
Coach: Tony Fisher. Captain: Jaco Booysen. Match winner: Mark Johnson.
The Rhinos are a worry, not just because they are unlikely to be competitive, but also because of fears they could cut up rough. The loss of Jamie Bloem, suspended for steroid abuse, and Andre Stoop - having an operation - are serious blows to a squad short of experience at this level. Better suited to the Emerging Nations competition, they could suffer record defeats, but they do number the unforgettably named Koot Human.
Coach: Mike McClennan. Captain: Duane Mann. Match winner: George Mann.
Now we know why nobody could understand Mike McClennan during his time at St Helens. He was talking Tongan. An innovative, sometimes impenetrable coach, his sides have tricks up their sleeves. Their chances would be better if Australia had taken the merciful course and left them Jim Dymock and John Hopoate, or if Albert Fulivai and Gordon Tallis were here. But there will be no lack of passion and opponents will be given a rugged time.
Coach: Clive Griffiths. Captain: Jonathan Davies. Match winner: Scott Gibbs.
Griffiths' great achievement as Welsh coach, apart from winning the European Championship, last season has been to get his forwards thinking and working like a rugby league pack, rather than one borrowed from union. With their size and experience of playing together and the strike power of backs like Gibbs, Iestyn Harris and - for the last time in this national side - Davies, they start as narrow favourites in an extremely competitive group.
Coach: Graham Lowe. Captain: John Schuster. Match winner: Va'aiga Tuigamala.
The most unpredictable side in the tournament. In terms of natural strength and ability, the Samoans should be a match for almost anyone, but they have little experience of playing together. A coach like Graham Lowe is a major asset, but they are likely to be a team of inspired individuals rather than an inspired team. But with individuals like Va'aiga Tuigamala, John Schuster and Tea Ropati, even playing by instinct could make them formidable.