A crucial Melbourne opener and a second Brisbane showpiece - The path to Rugby League World Cup glory explained

The Rugby League World Cup begins on Friday as co-hosts and odds-on favourites Australia start their defence and a bid for an 11th world title against rivals England.

Australia reclaimed the title four years ago with a dominant 34-2 win over New Zealand at Old Trafford, but what is their prospective route through to the Brisbane showpiece?

Here we provide a refresher of the format for the 15th edition of the competition, which will be held in venues across Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

The Group Stage

Group A: Australia, England, France, Lebanon

Group B: New Zealand, Samoa, Scotland, Tonga

Group C: Papua New Guinea, Wales, Ireland

Group D Fiji, United States, Italy

It is a relatively straightforward format for Groups A and B, the four teams play each other once and the top three go through to the quarter-finals.

However, Groups C and D are where it gets somewhat confusing.

Only one team progresses from each of those groups, which will feature inter-group matches. In addition to playing their group opponents, Ireland will take on Italy, Fiji face Wales and Papua New Guinea meet United States.

Wales, Ireland and the USA will all have to contend with the heat and the notoriously fierce atmosphere created by the Papua New Guinea fans, with all three of those contests being played in their capital Port Moresby.

The knock-outs

The winner of Group A will face the third-place team in Group B and vice-versa. The second-place side in Group A faces the winner of the Group C and the runner-up in Group B will play the top team in Group D.

Australia and New Zealand will each be favoured to win their groups, and the tournament opener between the Kangaroos and England in Melbourne carries great significance as the runner-up in Group A will likely face a semi-final with the Kiwis in Auckland.

The Final

The tournament reaches its conclusion at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on December 2. It marks the second time the final has been held in Brisbane but the omens are not good for Australia, with that game having ended in a stunning 34-20 loss to New Zealand in 2008.

Who to watch

It will be a minor miracle if anyone other than Australia lifts the trophy in Brisbane. But there is plenty of intrigue surrounding their rivals. 

England's performance will depend on what the often-criticised Wayne Bennett can harness from an undoubtedly talented side, while it will be interesting to see how New Zealand cope with losing players who have elected to play for Tonga, whose influx of NRL stars sees them go into the tournament as legitimate semi-final contenders.

Fiji reached the semi-finals four years ago and boast that tournament's top try-scorer Jarryd Hayne, but his switch from Australia is unlikely to prevent the Green and Gold from tasting glory once more.

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