FORMER NRL stars Willie Mason and Reni Maitua have slammed a "farce" that has soured the Rugby League World Cup shortly before the quarter-finals get underway.
Australia kicks off the sudden-death phase when it plays Samoa in Darwin on Friday night while Tonga, Lebanon, New Zealand, Fiji, England and Papua New Guinea join them in the final eight.
Samoa is lucky to still be in the tournament, having failed to win any of its three matches in the group stage. It escaped with a 14-all draw against Scotland in Cairns but before that suffered heavy defeats to New Zealand (38-8) and Tonga (32-18).
On the other end of the spectrum is Ireland who, despite winning two of its three matches, will play no further part in the World Cup. The Irish defeated Italy 36-12 first up and Wales 34-6 in its last clash, losing just one match 14-6 to Papua New Guinea.
But despite boasting a far better record than Samoa, the Pacific Island nation advanced and Ireland did not.
"I want someone to explain that to me. Seriously, it's a joke," Maitua told Unfiltered on Skipi TV.
"It makes the whole thing a bit of a farce to be honest. Why come over here? I'd be filthy (if I was playing for Ireland).
"You come all the way to the other side of the world, you win two games and a team goes through that hasn't won a game and has a draw? It doesn't make sense.
"It's not right what's happened to the Irish team. I'd be absolutely filthy."
"How do you win two games and not make the finals, and Samoa win none and make the finals?" Mason added.
The World Cup started with four pools - two of which had four teams (Pools A and B) and two of which had three (Pools C and D). Ireland was in a pool of three with PNG and Wales, finishing second behind PNG, preventing it from going through.
The top three teams from Pools A and B all advanced, while to progress from Pools C and D, you had to top your group.
Samoa was third in Pool B with one point and only scraped through because of a superior for-and-against to Scotland, who finished bottom.
It's been a disappointing campaign so far from a team loaded with NRL talent. It's skippered by wrecking ball Frank Pritchard and also boasts Queensland forward Josh Papalii, ex-Bulldogs star Ben Roberts and Cronulla workhorse Sam Tagatese among others.
Mason said something clearly isn't working inside the Samoan camp, calling into question the players' attitude and the role of support staff. For a team with so much talent it's been well off the pace, especially when comapred to Tonga, who defeated New Zealand to create history by becoming the first tier two nation to overcome a tier one side.
"It is up to you to be a professional (in camp)," Mason said. "When you're in camp for six weeks there's food everywhere and you can put on weight easily unless your coaches and your trainers are making you accountable for it.
"I don't think anyone's been held accountable - the coaches, the trainers - they need a whole new revamp for Samoa to get to that next level.
"The players are at that next level, they're ready to go to the quarters and the semi-finals and push like Tonga.
"They've regressed, so something's got to happen with the coaching system, training facilities, everything just needs a revamp. Get everyone out and start again."
Despite its poor form and having never beaten Australia, Pritchard believes his team can cause an upset against the Kangaroos because they have nothing to lose in their quarter-final.
"We've got nothing to lose. It's an opportunity for our team to come out and prove a lot of people wrong," Pritchard said.
"At the end of the day we've got to do us right and hold the ball. We haven't won any games, but we've got a great opportunity to win one.
"We were in a tough pool. It's still not an excuse but we've got Australia this week and if we go in there not being confident, they're going to put a couple of points on us.
"We can beat them just by holding the ball and trying to march them down the park and playing to our strengths. The big thing for us is holding the ball and completing our sets."
Pritchard said the team would take solace from Tonga's remarkable run.
"It does spur us on. It's good for the game, seeing Tonga win against New Zealand," he said.
"It opens up a lot of doors for the Tongan boys in international footy. When a tier-one team loses, it's good for the comp."
- with AAP
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