SCOTLAND will have to overcome the double hurdle of the physical might of Tonga and the fierce Australian heat if they are to start their Rugby League World Cup campaign with a win.
The Scots have gathered in the tropical city of Cairns in Northern Queensland for tomorrow’s match, which kicks off at 4.15 in the afternoon, local time (6.15am UK).
Temperatures are expected to reach 31 degrees Celsius and the humidity will be up towards 80% when they take the field.
They have been acclimatising at the James Cook University in Cairns where the players have been using heat chambers to adjust to the Australian weather.
As they try to conquer that, they will have to somehow stop a powerful Tongan side, whose squad includes 17 players based in Australia’s NRL competition.
They have also been boosted by Andrew Fifita of Australia and New Zealand’s Jason Taumalolo withdrawing from those squads to represent the Pacific Island.
The Scots are currently ranked as the fourth best team in international Rugby League, but they face a huge challenge to live up to that billing.
After the Tongans, they also have to face co-hosts New Zealand and then Samoa, so the players are preparing for three bruising encounters.
Three out of the four go through to the quarter-finals, but Scotland know they will do extremely well to repeat their performance of 2013 when they reached the last eight before losing to the Kiwis.
There are seven uncapped players and with eight players aged 23 and under, they are one of the youngest squads Down Under.
But the man directing things out on the field will be veteran half-back and captain Danny Brough, as he leads the side for the third successive World Cup.
The Huddersfield Giants player, the Super League Man of Steel in 2013, is happy for Scotland to play the underdog card and recognises what lies ahead.
“We have a really young side, which is going to have their put hand up and put in some really big performances,” says Brough.
“It’s a massive tournament and we are playing three massive teams, so we are under no illusions about how hard it is going to be.
“We could not have had a harder group. But we thrive on being the underdogs and hopefully we’ll pick up a scalp along the way.
“That suits us because no one expects us to do anything. We can play and express ourselves with no expectations.
“We have to treat every game as if we’re playing the best in the world to give it our best shot to win a game and get through the group stages.
“Along with blooding these young players, that would be success for us. That is our aim.”
As for facing the Tongans in the heat of Cairns first up, Brough is brutally honest.
“Tonga are a physical force and they will look to come straight through the middle of us,” he states. “We’ll have to come off the line and try to meet fire with fire.
“The weather is so hot in the afternoon here and that’s when we’re kicking off. It’s hard not to sweat when you’re just walking down the street.
“We have to adapt to that, but that’s rugby league. I played in France this year away to Catalans and the temperature was 106F.
“I’ll be perfectly honest, it was torture!”
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